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Malaria: biting back in Zimbabwe

Malaria: biting back in Zimbabwe

New funds will help UNICEF fight malaria

HARARE, 22 Feb 2005 – Despite impressive advances made against malaria in Zimbabwe during the mid and late 1990s, UNICEF today warned that the country’s children are once more under threat from the disease.

At the same time, the UN Children’s Fund welcomed a critical donation of US$3million from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). The funds will provide for 400,000 insecticide treated nets (ITNs) for children under five years and pregnant women.

Half of all Zimbabweans live in malarial areas, and malaria is the second highest killer of children in Zimbabwe. And yet only seven percent of children (under five years) sleep under treated nets. As such, the DFID funds will allow for a life-saving expansion of long lasting insecticide treated nets.

“These funds from DFID come at a crucial time for Zimbabwean children,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe. “If we are to counter rising malaria and still reach globally accepted targets of 60% ITN coverage among children and pregnant women (by 2005), then this is exactly the sort of large scale action needed. On behalf of the children and pregnant women of Zimbabwe, I would like to thank DFID for this support”

In the past five years in Zimbabwe, increased resistance of malaria parasites to drugs has been coupled with the significant movement of people (either due to resettlement or economic emigration). This has resulted in people relocating from non-endemic to malaria endemic areas. Because these people have no built-in immunity to malaria, epidemics are occurring with increasing frequency and fatalities, especially amongst children and pregnant women.

In response UNICEF will use the DFID funds to massively boost coverage of treated nets, while enhancing education and awareness about preventing malaria.

“Malaria not only kills, it also damages productivity and halts development,” said the head of DFID in Zimbabwe, John Barrett. “A malaria-stricken family spends an average of over one quarter of its income on treatment. Thus malaria has far reaching effects on health and economic productivity. Through UNICEF we therefore hope to save lives and assist development.”

Vector control and spraying initiatives are well established in Zimbabwe, however, due to the high cost of chemicals, limited availability of resources and Zimbabwe’s challenges in importing supplies (which are paid with foreign currency), coverage is declining.

“There is no single way of preventing malaria,” said UNICEF’s Dr Kavishe. “Increasingly malaria parasites are becoming resistant to existing drugs such as chloroquine, and an effective vaccine is considered years away. The answer is prevention, or more specifically, insecticide treated nets. The perennial question is: Who pays? Now DFID have provided a critical answer to that.”

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