Zanzibar close to zero malaria cases

Island close to eliminating killer disease on World Malaria Day

Kizito Makoye   | 24.04.2022
Zanzibar close to zero malaria cases

UNGUJA, Tanzania

Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, has drastically reduced malaria cases in the past decade thanks to multiple interventions.

They include public education, insecticide spraying and the use of treated bed nets that have helped prevent the deaths of pregnant women and children under the age of 5.

Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, Zanzibar's Health Minister said the world's number one killer disease has declined to low levels in the semi-autonomous archipelago and various efforts are underway to prevent it from taking hold again.

"We are encouraging people to sleep under treated bed nets, take proper testing and medication and keep the environment clean to prevent mosquito breeding," he told Anadolu Agency.

Mazrui said success in the fight against malaria is a result of a coordinated response between residents of Zanzibar, the government and international partners.

“We owe this success to international partners who have played a very big role to provide funding for malaria projects in the isles,” he said.

Malaria is the largest killer in Africa, with more than 1 million deaths every year, most of whom are children under 5. Until a decade ago, the parasite was the leading health problem in Zanzibar.

As the world marks Malaria Day on Monday, authorities in the Indian Ocean archipelago are working to identify and tame breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Armed with multiple strategies, such as indoor/ outdoor residual spraying and extensive use of insecticide-treated bed nets, health officials in Zanzibar have been able to keep Malaria-transmitting mosquitoes at bay with the disease’s prevalence remaining at 1%.

Despite making good progress, officials say elimination of the disease is an uphill struggle because of close interaction with visitors from the mainland and other areas where malaria is rife.

“Mosquitoes are very tricky, when they bite someone already infected with malaria, they can quickly pass on the parasite to another person,” said Mohamed Ali, an official with the Zanzibar Anti-Malaria program.

Ali said the government is still banking on public health education, especially the use of artemisinin-based combination therapy for malaria treatment and indoor/outdoor spraying, which have greatly reduced mosquito breeding areas.

“The people of Zanzibar are lucky to have unlimited access to better services for diagnosis and treatment of malaria. We want to maintain this pace and soon this deadly disease will be eliminated once and for all,” he said.

Drastic change

Barely a decade ago, local doctor Zainab Ali Hamad showed up at her clinic in the tiny village of Jambiani only to find a horde of feverish people waiting on a wooden bench.

Malaria was ravaging her community.

Now, she hardly sees a patient with Malaria.

Drastic change is documented on a handwritten ledger she keeps on her wooden desk.

In 2010, her modest clinic, with bare concrete floors, treated 3,078 cases of Malaria. By 2015 that number had been slashed to 991. By last year, there were just 21 cases, and this year, none.

“We have struggled a lot to fight malaria. It was a serious public health problem in the past. However, with multiple interventions, we have seen impressive results over the years. The challenge, for now, is to keep the morbidity down,” said Hamad

In rural parts of Zanzibar -- a wide expanse of coconut, banana trees and mud-walled houses -- authorities took advantage of donor money to spray homes and distribute nets treated with insecticides.

Nearly all the 200,000 homes on Zanzibar were sprayed in three waves, more than 230,000 nets were handed out and 100,000 rapid diagnostic kits were stocked in clinics.

Among those whose homes were treated was Nemy Hussein, 41, who lives in a rundown, concrete shack with no electricity or running water.

Her home was sprayed three times and her children sleep together in a bed protected by a white net draped over the posts and tucked under the mattress.

Hussein’s 11-year-old daughter, Natasha, used to suffer from fevers, headaches and other malaria symptoms three to five times a month.

Since she received the net, Hussein said Natasha has not experienced a malaria attack. Now, instead of making the long trek on foot to the clinic every week, Hussein said she has not gone in six months.

"It is a blessing, I thank the almighty God for protecting my family," she said.

The Zanzibar government routinely hands out bed nets to pregnant mothers and children under 5, who are most susceptible to the disease and it pays for indoor spraying and treatment.

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