BY PHYLIS MBANJE
THE quest to develop non-chemical-based vector control interventions for malaria is gaining momentum raising hopes that the disease burden will be reduced in the country.
This massive intervention will be done under a project called Afro II, which is a study aimed at gathering evidence to establish if house screening against mosquitoes can be adopted as an additional intervention in the fight against malaria in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is one of the six southern African countries that were selected to participate in this project — expected to demonstrate the effectiveness of diversified, environmentally sound and sustainable interventions for use in the fight against malaria.
Malaria is still a high burden disease for Zimbabwe and is the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Statistics show that malaria cases increased by 58% from 242 951 cases in 2019 to 384 956 in 2020.
In April this year, the disease claimed 18 lives inside one week across the most prone province of Mashonaland Central.
According to statistics from the Health and Child Care ministry’s malaria control programme, there were 393 malaria deaths in November 2020, up from 257 the previous year and 183 in 2018.
Already the government has issued a warning ahead of the malaria season saying outbreaks were imminent.
“So Afro II will be the game changer and we hope after its completion Zimbabwe will be having better options for fighting malaria,” said Casper Tarumbwa, the WHO national coordinator for the Afro II project.
While the five-year project is being run by the Health and Child Care ministry, WHO will offer technical support with funds from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).
Currently, the most common methods being used in Zimbabwe in the fight against malaria include indoor residual spraying (IRS), case management, distribution of mosquito nets, health education, among others.
“So under Afro II, we are looking at other non-chemical options like house screening which is more sustainable and environment friendly,” said Tarumbwa.
The pilot project will be conducted in Chiredzi, one of the country’s districts with a high malaria burden.
Afro II take off has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and had many false starts.
Meanwhile, the district medical officer (DMO) for Chiredzi Brian Dhlandhlara said they have always recorded many cases and deaths.
“This is because of the hot weather. Chiredzi is in region 5. There is also a lot of sugar cane farming and irrigation,” he said.
The DMO said farm workers also stayed in substandard houses which left them prone to mosquito bites.
Dhlandhlara explained that the impact of the disease on the economy was severe.
“When productive people get sick, they do not report for work and production suffers. It also depletes medical supplies in hospitals,” he said.
In Chiredzi, especially the southern part, many were cut off during the rainy season due to flooded rivers.
“We have no way of supplying medical supplies to such areas when the rivers are flooded,” said Dhlandhlara.
Speaking on the Afro II project, Dhlandhlara said it was a welcome development since it emphasised non-chemical options.
“Companies like Tongaat Hullett produce sugar and do not want the environment to be polluted by chemicals,” he said.
Pesticide dicophane (DDT), a common chemical used for malaria control has been facing a lot of resistance globally.
“Globally, there is a campaign against chemicals. While we seek other options, we will continue using chemicals,” said Wilson Chauke, the national vector control officer in the Health ministry’s malaria department.
Chauke said the ministry was concerned about border towns which made malaria control measures difficult.