As the Malaria epidemic continue to spread virulently in Africa leaving in its wake a frightening toll of casualties; human, economic and social, the call to rise up and fight the disease with renewed vigor has never resonated more powerfully of late.
Malaria so far is the leading killer disease globally surpassing other dreaded epidemics like HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis etc. Sub-Saharan Africa currently takes the lion’s share of deaths associated with Malaria.
Out of the three million people who succumb to Malaria annually, ninety percent are from Africa.
The intensity of Malaria epidemic has lately provoked the conscience of policy makers in higher echelons of Government, non Governmental organizations, Bilateral and multi-lateral agencies who have all teamed up to establish a co-ordinate approach to fight the disease.
The roll back Malaria (RBM) global partnership that was launched in 1998 to provide a coordinated international approach to fight the disease has the blessing of almost all Malaria endemic African Countries. The primary goal of Roll back Malaria is to halve the burden of malaria by the year 2010.
A number of targets for specific intervention strategies were established at the Abuja Malaria summit in April 2000 and were endorsed by the high-powered delegations in attendance. The targets include among others, prompt access to effective treatment, provision of insecticide treated nets to reach sixty percent of those at risk from malaria; children under five years and pregnant mothers.
Malaria is the root cause of the debilitating poverty afflicting many African countries. In Tanzania alone, the disease kills a staggering 100,000 people every year. Nearly thirty million people in Tanzania are at risk of the disease; a situation that create heavy burden on families and the Country’s health system. Malaria consumes 3.5 percent or US $ 350 Million of the Country’s gross domestic product each year.
Malaria continues to blight struggling economies in Africa where 60 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Struggling economies in Africa are being overwhelmed by challenges posed by Malaria epidemic. The shoestring budgetary allocation to the health sector by most African Governments has often stood in the way of taming the malaria devastations in our countries.
Malaria is also reversing backwards any gains African countries might have achieved towards sustainable development. The millennium development goals (MDGS) appears ever more like a distant mirage as the populations which could have been the catalyst to enable their countries attain the millennium targets, die in large numbers from preventable causes like malaria.
Despite the gloomy scenario though, the fight against malaria is accelerating on a steady course in many African countries. Tanzania for instance has stood out as a shining example of a country that has risen up to the challenge of battling the tropical epidemic which is responsible for about 40 percent of fewer than five deaths in the country.
Malaria also impacts heavily on pregnant women leading to an upsurge of Anemia and fetal weight loss.
The Government of Tanzania has set up fantastic programmes for malaria prevention and treatment. These programmes and initiatives have been developed through engagement with all concerned parties and the successes recorded on the ground are so impressive.
Recently, a UK based non governmental organization that is heavily involved in malaria war in Africa, organized a trip for both African and foreign Journalists to Tanzania to expose them to the various programmes and projects that are fully vibrant as the country grapples with the magnitude of malaria epidemic. The site visits to the many Malaria projects that are fully operational in Tanzania were an eye opener for us and underscores the determination of one African country that does not want to be left behind in the fight against malaria. We embarked on extensive tours to the Malaria research projects and visited the Malaria endemic commu-nities in Malaria hotspots of Southern Tanzania to get first hand account of how these communities are grappling with the epidemic.
The Tanzanian ministry of health in collaboration with partners in research, donor community and the grassroots communities has developed innovative programmes to scale up an effective means of fighting malaria. A number of projects like the provision of insecticide treated nets (ITNS) to vulnerable groups of Children and pregnant women have achieved phenomenal results. In October 2004,Tanzanian Government began to scale up an innovative programme that uses discount vouchers to provide pregnant women and infant’s access to insecticide treated nets at reduced prices.The Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS) is a unique and innovative model that provides targeted subsidies to those who are vulnerable to malaria. The Voucher scheme is a collaborative venture involving various players like Government, private sector, Donors and community groups.
Through Voucher scheme, pregnant women who visit antenatal care at health facilities are issued with a voucher that they present to any recommended retailer and are given the net at reasonable cost. Gover-nment and donors have developed social marketing strategy and the private sector is involved in the supply of the treated nets to reach a wide berth of population of vulnerable groups in an economically viable manner.
There are so many retail outlets in malaria endemic regions of Tanzania that are actively involved in supplying treated nets to every household with either infants or a pregnant mother at a partly price of two dollars.
The Global fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has availed a grant of US $ 11.6 to the Tanzania Ministry of Health to enable the ministry avail low cost insecticide treated nets to households through the discount voucher scheme. With support from UNICEF, a pilot project was tested in two malaria endemic Districts of Kibaha and Kilosa to ascertain the effectiveness of the voucher scheme. The two projects bore impressive results that provoked the Government to expand discount voucher scheme to cover wider geographical location.
Mtwara province in southern Tanzania is a malaria hotspot that is home to 1.2 million people. The province is a behemoth covering 16,000 square km and has a sizeable coastline.
The extensive marsh-lands provide a fertile ground for mosquito breeding hence high incidences of Malaria infections that are recorded in the region especially during the December to January Rainfall seoson.