25 April 2012 - UN in Uganda: Sustaining malaria control efforts in Uganda is an investment in the nation’s development
On Africa Malaria Day, which coincides today with World Malaria Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF call for continued commitment by partners to prevent and control malaria in Uganda, which will save lives and improve the wellbeing of communities.
The theme this year is “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria.” Sustaining malaria control efforts is an investment in a country‟s development, and continued effort now will propel us closer to zero deaths from the disease by 2015.
The global response to eliminate malaria has created unprecedented momentum and yielded remarkable returns in the past years. However, these gains are fragile and will be reversed unless the disease continues to be a priority for global, regional and national decision makers and donors.
The 2011 World Malaria Report indicates that out of 216 million malaria cases worldwide in 2010, 81% occurred in Africa. The report also indicates that 91% of the 655,000 malaria deaths globally took place in African countries.
But there is cause for hope. Uganda‟s WHO Country Representative Dr Joaquim Saweka says malaria deaths have been cut by at least one third in the Africa region during the last decade.
“Several countries like Zambia, Rwanda and Zanzibar have registered significant progress,” said Dr. Saweka. “However, others including Uganda still have a lot to do, and yet 2015 – the land mark year when we should have reduced malaria morbidity by 75% – is fast approaching,” he noted.
Malaria is responsible for more illness and death than any other single disease in Uganda, according to the 2006 Uganda Demographic Health Survey, and children under five years old are more susceptible to the disease. An estimated 190,000 children under five die in Uganda every year, and nearly 37% of those deaths are due to malaria.
“Malaria remains the biggest killer of children in Uganda mainly because the majority do not sleep under a bed net, while others do not receive the proper treatment for it in good time,” says Dr. Sharad Sapra, UNICEF Representative in Uganda, who observes that malaria is both preventable and curable – and therefore controllable.
UNICEF and WHO advocate for strengthening community-based health teams to educate people at the household level about the disease, to manage cases at the village level, and to refer complicated cases to health centres or hospitals.
The Uganda Government, with support from UNICEF and WHO, has continued to invest in malaria control, leading to significant progress in recent years. This effort has included training Village Health Teams (VHTs) in an integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) programme aiming to expand and improve the diagnosis and treatment of malaria at the community level. VHTs are equipped to appropriately diagnose and treat the disease within the first 24 hours of symptom onset, increasing the chances that a child will survive.
The use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) has also expanded in recent years, with ITNs considered the most cost-effective method of malaria prevention in highly endemic areas.
Equally significant is an increase in the proportion of children sleeping under bed nets. In 2006, only 9.3% children less than five years old slept under a bed net, compared to an estimated 43% in 2011, according to the preliminary results of the 2011 Uganda Demographic Health Survey. This has contributed to the overall reduction of child mortality rates.
Scientists are calling for more investment in monitoring and evaluation in order to be able to report on progress achieved in addition to research that generates new information and evidence.
In particular, researchers are concerned with cases of Artemisinin-resistant malaria in Southeast Asia, particularly along the Cambodia-Thailand border and the Thailand-Burma border. Artemisinin is the most effective component in treating the disease. Therapeutic efficacy studies should therefore be included in malaria control efforts.
UNICEF and WHO are also collaborating with the Ministry of Health and other partners to use innovative mobile technology (through the „mTrac‟ system) to improve data reporting on malaria case management and surveillance at community level.
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