'Mosquitoes don't stop at borders'

In advance of World Malaria Day on Friday, several African countries have called for a joint international initiative to combat the disease that kills more than one million people each year, mostly young children in Africa.

“We want the people in the North who aren’t affected by malaria to know about the devastating effects of the disease and to get involved,” Awa-Maria Coll-Seck, director of Roll Back Malaria, told a meeting of Southern African health ministers and their deputies in Livingstone in Zambia.

A series of events to raise awareness around one of the world’s big killer diseases, which was eradicated in wealthy countries several decades ago, is taking place in Livingstone to mark the first-ever World Malaria Day.

Every 30 seconds in Africa a child dies from malaria, with low-lying areas that are prone to flooding during the summer rainy season—like the Zambezi River valley—particularly affected.

The Zambezi, Africa’s fourth-largest river, winds through Angola and along the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia before flowing out to sea through Mozambique.

A German journalist, Helge Bendl, who has been travelling the river for the past month as part of an expedition to distribute anti-malaria material and raise awareness about the disease told the conference of the difficulty for riverine populations in accessing treatment.

Villagers who contract malaria sometimes have to travel 80km by boat, through crocodile-infested waters, to receive medical attention, Bendl said.

Malaria is still a major public health problem in about 90 countries, including India, where it has made a comeback in recent years.

Donor spending on malaria prevention and treatment has rocketed in recent years, thanks partly to a special focus from United States President George Bush and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The money has gone mainly towards the mass distribution of treated bed nets, the roll-out of new, more effective combination therapies and vaccine research.

Promising results from clinical trials in Mozambique last year of a vaccine have led some donors to start talking up the possibility of finally swatting malaria. The trial showed infants who received the vaccine were 65% less likely to contract malaria.

Zambian Health Minister Brian Chituwo stressed the importance of cross-border initiatives to contain the disease in Southern Africa given that, as anti-malaria campaigner Louis da Gama once noted, “mosquitoes don’t stop at borders”.—Sapa-dpa

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