Behavioural change key in combatting malaria

HARARE - Yesterday, we reported that malaria is spreading rapidly in Zimbabwe, with an estimated 518 deaths in 2017, up from 231 a year before, according to the Health and Child Care ministry.

Clearly, deaths from malaria in Zimbabwe last year outstripped 2016 figures amid indications that the number of people succumbing to the old age disease remains unacceptably too high.

2018 figures are heading in the same direction.

Government officials reported this week a total of 5 997 malaria cases and five deaths for the week ending March 25.

The deaths were reported from Mutare District, in Manicaland Province, Mbire District and in Mashonaland Central Province. The provinces which reported the highest numbers of malaria cases were Manicaland 3 080 and Mashonaland Central 884.

The cumulative figures for malaria are 63 912 cases and 73 deaths, so far, since January. Surely, this is unacceptable. We need to raise community involvement, and step up interventions to contain this emergency. Generally, it is for the patients to think about prevention being better than cure.

We can’t accept a scenario where so many people are infected every year and so many dying of this disease.

We need new ideas to tackle it. This disease poses a tremendous threat, especially in malaria-endemic regions such as Manicaland.

We need to roll back these figures. Surely we can’t be losing over 500 people to malaria yearly.

Despite the efforts in place to fight malaria such as indoor residual spraying and intermittent preventive therapy in pregnancy as well as malaria community case management done through the village health worker and school health coordinators, more needs to be done to curb the increase in malaria cases across the country.

One of these is to intensify efforts in behavioural change campaigns. This calls for regular sensitisation drives on the basics of malaria prevention. Basic things like avoiding any bushes and stagnant water around homesteads are often taken for granted, especially in rural areas.

Communities need regular reminders to ensure a mindset change. We have had cases where mosquito nets are used for other purposes, like fishing, because of this mindset problem.   The Health and Child Care ministry should prioritise behavioural change approach as the primary strategy to stamp out malaria.

Without behavioural change, the distribution of nets across the country and good facilities to treat malaria will not yield the desired results.

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