/ 3 June 2008

Lack of cooperation hinders malaria prevention

Sunburned expedition leaders fresh from an arduous journey down the Zambezi River to call attention to malaria said on Tuesday that countries must work together to eliminate the disease.

The Roll Back Malaria expedition followed the river 3 000km through six countries in Southern Africa, delivering insecticide-treated nets and medication and providing testing to villages often only reached by water, participants said.

The Roll Back Malaria campaign is a partnership launched in 1998 by the World Health Organisation, Unicef, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank in an effort to halve the number of deaths from malaria by 2010.

But when the campaign assessed its accomplishments at the midway point, there were more malaria cases than when it started, not fewer.

Malaria kills about three million people every year, the majority of whom are African children. The disease costs Africa an estimated $12-billion in lost productivity every year.

The expedition started on April 3 in Zambia and ended on May 31 in Mozambique, where the river empties into the Indian Ocean.

Expedition members said many villagers along the river must travel long distances to the nearest medical post. Limited access to medical care and a lack of regional cooperation are hindering malaria prevention, group members said.

”There are no borders for malaria,” expedition manager Herve Verhoosel said. ”Mosquitoes don’t get their passports stamped at the other side of the border.”

Using inflatable boats, the group followed the river through Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique — countries with varying success in battling malaria. Zimbabwe was best positioned to fight the disease, the group found, while some villagers in western Angola trekked 70km to receive care.

Expedition organisers hope the journey will raise help raise money for a trans-Zambezi project. Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are developing a joint plan to fight malaria, but the project depends on funding.

The expedition started in Zambia and navigated 500km of uncharted water in Angola. At one point, the group narrowly avoided a 500m waterfall and was stranded for two days before being assisted by a helicopter.

Besides giving villagers thousands of insecticide-treated nets, local doctors who joined the expedition also distributed artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACT), the most effective drugs currently available or treating malaria, which only need to be taken for three days.

The group said local health ministries working with the expedition also distributed nets.

”People in these areas know about malaria,” Hegle Bendl, the expedition leader, said. ”They know what they have to do to fight it. They just don’t have the necessary means.” – Sapa-AP