Tanzania: Big drop in malaria cases in the spice isles

News and Press Release
Originally published
STONE TOWN, ZANZIBAR, 26 April 2007 (IRIN) - While many countries marked Africa Malaria Day on 25 April with shocking case figures, health practitioners in the Tanzanian semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar pointed to their success in cutting malaria numbers.

"We have few or no cases in many hospitals or clinics in Zanzibar. The big drop has prompted us to reduce malaria therapy stocks by donating to our friends on the mainland where malaria is still a big problem," the Zanzibar Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Sultan Mohamed Mugheiry, said.

The anti-malaria programme is supported by USAID. "Since we declared joint war against malaria in September 2005, we have recorded success. But to maintain the success remains the biggest challenge to the people of Zanzibar," Mugheiry said.

Addressing Bwejuu villagers about 41km south of Zanzibar Stone Town, the health minister said the "strongest weapon in fighting remains keeping the environment clean and free of stagnant water".

Bwejuu village is one of the most successful in Zanzibar in fighting malaria; the villagers have formed groups for keeping the surroundings clean. The minister promised to take disciplinary measures against the minority still refusing to keep their surroundings clean or allowing their houses to be sprayed with anti-malaria chemicals.

Mugheiry attributed the islands' success in the battle against malaria to increased awareness in seeking early treatment, accurate diagnosis and combination therapy, and the ongoing campaign to use insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS).

"Since September 2005 we have distributed more than 300,000 treated mosquito nets to mainly pregnant mothers and children below five years of age. Our recent estimate shows that 82 percent of Zanzibar children below the age of five, and 62 percent of nurturing or pregnant mothers, sleep under nets," Mugheiry said.

Ninety percent of residential homes, he added, had been sprayed with chemicals against mosquitoes, and the ministry has started to spray larvae sites.

The lambda-cyhalothrin (ICON) chemical is being used for IRS because DDT is not allowed in Zanzibar. "We prohibited DDT because it is unfriendly to the environment and humans," the minister said.

The USAID director in Tanzania, Pamela White, said: "The world is watching Zanzibar's success story in combating malaria. We have sprayed houses, but we need to spray all houses. If your neighbour is hesitating to have his house sprayed, convince him or her."

One problem, however, is poor equipment in treatment centres, according to a programme officer from the Zanzibar Malaria Control Programme in the health ministry. Ali Khamis Abbass told journalists that out of 68 private clinics surveyed on Unguja Island last October, 45 had 'unfit' microscopes.

"Private clinics have been conducting substandard malaria diagnosis, with slides always giving positive results for malaria. We need all health centres in the islands to give quality assurance on malaria," Khamis said.