African countries still bear the brunt of malaria’s grip on the world, with approximately 70% of all infections occurring on this continent. However, there is still hope, and it is possible that we can see the end of this scourge in just a few years.
These are the words of Sherwin Charles – Co-Founder and CEO of Goodbye Malaria, at a recent round table event on Thursday 22 April held in the lead-up to World Malaria Day (Sunday 25 April). “In many respects, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted malaria prevention and treatment efforts, and it is estimated that malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could reach their highest numbers in over 20 years. Yet we believe that this disease can be eliminated by 2025 if we all work together. The past year has been a testament to this, in total 2 046 226 million lives have been saved through the Goodbye Malaria spray programme.”
He explains that prolific strides have been made in the fight against malaria in recent years. South Africa’s long history of effective malaria control has led to a low incidence rate, making elimination a feasible prospect. “We have seen a great deal of work being done by the private sectors to help those living in high risk regions. Domestic resources have become of utmost importance in the fight against malaria. Ensuring that we have enough resource availability that as the cases get closer to zero we still have continued investment. As the burden of disease decreases, we need to keep our foot on the accelerator until we get to zero.”
Professor Karen Barnes, Chairperson of the South African Malaria Elimination Committee, notes that the total eradication of Malaria requires the involvement of communities in malaria programmes. “Greater community engagement makes such a massive difference in the fight against this disease. From enlisting the help of community members in the spraying of houses, to encouraging patients to finish their courses of treatment, the support of local communities is the key to stopping the spread.”
Also present at the event was our honourable Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, who added that education regarding malaria also needs to be ramped up. “Awareness of the disease and how to prevent it is, of course, the first and most important line of defense. As the world has changed with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways in which communities should combat this issue has also altered. For example, whilst we encourage the closing of windows at night and the use of fans for malaria, the opposite is encouraged for COVID-19. That is to ensure that particles of COVID-19 in the air do not remain. We believe that communities now need to be equipped with the necessary precautions to prevent contracting malaria while keeping their new risks in mind as well.
In closing, Charles says that innovative partnerships have so far helped South Africa, as well as its neighbouring countries, to gain significant ground in the war against malaria. “The end is in sight, but we also believe that the next few years will also be some of the most difficult as we attempt to finally reach our goal of zero malaria infections. Now is the time for us to really step up and see this fight through to the end,” he concludes.
About Malaria in South Africa
- South Africa is amongst several African countries that are affected by malaria, with transmission occurring seasonally, starting to rise around September/October and reducing towards May, with peaks in January and April.
- South Africa has three malaria endemic provinces; Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
- Malaria cases have decreased by 87% from 64,622 cases in the year 2000 compared to 8,126 cases in the year 2020, and malaria deaths have also decreased by 91%, from 459 to 38 deaths between 2000 and 2020
- Due to the decreasing trends in malaria cases in South Africa, the country is embarking on an elimination programme, targeting zero local cases by the year 2023. The country has aligned its strategy to that of the World Health Organization’s Global Technical Strategy, where surveillance, system strengthening, case management, health promotion and vector control, feature prominently.