by Angela S. Damas
Published on: Sep 20, 2006
Type: Short Stories

Malaria: The forgotten battle that never forgot us.

Thinking back on how many times I have had malaria is difficult for me. I guess it’s once every three months including the times I go to the hospital and get diagnosed and the times I conclude I have malaria and treat myself.

Hospitals and homes filled with cries, routine decease to many.
(photo by Damaso Reyes in Arumeru hospital-Arusha-Tanzania)

In many African countries malaria is part of life. It seems most of us are used of having malaria.

When we hear a co-worker is sick from malaria, we all give advice about which medication he/she should use and the amount of water and rest they need. It’s just like giving advice to a friend who is looking for a good shop to buy shoes.

Malaria has been with us so long that we feel comfortable with it around us, in us and between us.

Is this because not many people die from malaria? No, Amani Karume, the president of Zanzibar, would disagree with me, as he said, “Malaria is the number one killer disease in most African countries.” I believe many other activists and organizations working on malaria will agree with President Karume.

Most don’t know how many people are infected by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Maybe we don’t take the fight against malaria seriously enough because we believe it can be cured.

About 100,000 people die of malaria in Tanzania every year. For those who don’t die, , the time a person is sick, the time and money spent treating the disease is good reason to avoid being infected. At least 350 million malaria incidents are reported yearly worldwide.

Maybe it’s about time we all take responsibility in the fight against malaria while looking at all its angles of effects and impacts and comparing them to the ways in which this can actually be prevented. And for our countries to be reminded of the commitment they made in 2000 of providing Insecticide treated nets (ITN) by 2005 for 60% of children under 5 years old and pregnant women.

The importance of the fight against malaria has resulted in some countries which suffered from it winning the battle. In Africa Mauritius and South Africa and Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia are good examples of victory over malaria. These countries are good examples on how to prevent malaria.

Another example of the ongoing fight against malaria can be seen in Tanzania, where the fight has been given priority in the national health budget and special programs. Good results can be seen in Zanzibar off the east cost of Tanzania mainland, where a number of reported malaria cases are decreasing tremendously. Zanzibar residents were able to eradicate malaria some years back. But their attention to malaria waned and it re-occurred. The islands are now almost malaria-free thanks to increased attention and increased government resources.

This emphasizes the need for continuous efforts to keep malaria away. Most underdeveloped countries find it hard to maintain an all-out war against malaria due to lack of resources.

Most African countries have fought malaria for a very long time. Reasons why they haven’t won the battle lie in the tools and strategies being used. The lack of financial resources is a major constraint in many of these countries. They are poor and face a number of other diseases like hunger, disasters and pandemics. It is hard to fight one battle to the end when you are fighting 4 other battles at the same time.

Nets only are not a solution, treated nets are highly in
demand for families in Malaria threat.(Picture by Damaso Reyes)

Plasmodium falciparum is the most common mosquito causing vast majority malaria incidents in Africa especially the south of Sahara. When bitten with this type of mosquito malaria can attack a body in a number of ways. A 10 year old primary school student in Jambiani, Zanzibar says he knows a person might have malaria if that person feels dizzy, has a headache or pain in joints, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pains etc. The children in Jambiani are part of the success story in one of the Zanzibar villages. They are taught the symptoms and know whenever you have any of the symptoms you should go to hospital. Jambiani village has been able to involve the community and make plans together on the fight against malaria which includes cleaning of the surroundings, educating the village on preventive measures that can be taken as well as necessity of treatment. Since October 2005 there has been only 1 reported case of malaria in the area comparing to more that 500 cases average that were reported previously every year.

Malaria can be prevented by destroying all the breeding sites of these mosquitoes. Dirty and still waters are perfect breeding centers for mosquitoes. Malaria can also be prevented by using nets on windows and doors so that mosquitoes can not come in contact with human beings. The use of mosquitos’ bed nets is one of the more effective means of preventing malaria infections. In Tanzania the government issues vouchers to help pregnant women obtain bed nets for very low rates. Women and young children under the age of five are the ones in the biggest danger.

Mosquito spray, repellent and coils are also used to prevent infection but these are not very affordable to many people, especially in rural areas where more than half of the population live on less than 2 USD per day.

The big challenge in fighting malaria is mosquitoes which have grown resistant to chloroquine, then SP. Malaria parasites are winning this battle and I’m sure they have a plan to win but they may have finally met their match in ACT or artemisinin-based combination therapy.

The battle is on. It’s now up to me and you to play our role and put our strength together in the fight against malaria and many other diseases. This battle needs both our initiatives. Malaria is for real, not an issue or a dream, it’s a reality to many of us, and especially those who can not afford to treat or prevent it themselves. Commitment is essential to this fight, be it use of the existing channels or avenues that can bring people together and share the same ideas and enthusiasm.

This is because the fight against malaria just at the level of government doesn’t help in total eradication; implementation of the fight has to also be taken by people themselves. I will surely take sports and cultural activities as a starting point on the positive gatherings that can have people discuss ways and initiatives on how they can be part of this battle. Involvement of the community worked in Jambiani, I’m sure it will work in many other places.

Pan African youth delegates from Tanzania have declared to be part of this huge battle against malaria, its no longer safe to wait for it to turn to even a big disaster to start fighting. All Pan African youth leaders have to be ready as well. We make a lot of difference in our communities and our lives in a number of ways by the things we do. Yet there are still so many battles to be fought. This is just one more battles, albeit a crucial one. We have no choice but to put in our lists of battles and do something about it or it will keep defeating us. If that happens, the consequences will be devastating.

Written by Angela Damas, Tanzanian Pan African Youth leader
All information collected during field visit from different sources, including human intuition.

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