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Forging cross-border initiatives to curb the spread of malaria in the Zambezi Valley

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An Indoor Residual Spraying team gears up for the action © UNDP

Harare, 11 December 2012: The Government of Zimbabwe has welcomed the idea of a “more focused” Zambia-Zimbabwe cross-border malaria initiative advanced by the UNDP-administered grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The grant aims at scaling up universal coverage of malaria control interventions towards malaria pre-elimination in targeted cross-border districts.

“The cross-border initiative, once fully operational should act as an accelerator of the transition from malaria control to malaria elimination in the Zambezi Valley, thereby paving way for poverty alleviation, and social and economic prosperity in the region,” the minister for health and child welfare, Dr. Henry Madzorera has said.

Addressing a meeting of health professionals, government and UN officials from Zambia and Zimbabwe held in the city of Harare on 26 November, 2012 the minister stressed that cross border collaboration between the two countries holds a lot of promise for malaria elimination in the region. The meeting was held to explore the feasibility and opportunity for the two countries to engage and coordinate on cross border malaria control and elimination interventions within the framework of the existing Global Fund supported programs in both Zambia and Zimbabwe.

It was anticipated that this high-level forum would eventually come up with cross-border Malaria Action plans, ready for immediate implementation by each national program at all levels and a clear indication of the specific roles to be played by technical partners in supporting implementation of the district cross border malaria action plans.

“Recognising the inherent problems that reduce the success rate of regional applications and bog down effective implementation, at the Global Fund we have approached this as a special project to be supported through the current grant management Country Teams for Zambia and Zimbabwe,” said Mr. Linden Morrison, the Global Fund Regional Team Leader for High Impact Africa II. “The Pilot programme could be a good example to be replicated across the Global Fund portfolio,” he added.

The value of the current Global Fund investments in the three malaria grants in Zambia and Zimbabwe up to 2015 is US $ 60 million, including US $ 35 million earmarked for Zimbabwe and US $ 25 million for Zambia.

The Zambia and Zimbabwe Cross-border Malaria Initiative is informed and complements already existing initiatives such as the SADC Malaria elimination initiatives, Trans-Zambezi Malaria Initiative (TZMI) and TZMI Business Plan. The Trans-Zambezi Malaria Initiative is a convergence of 5 countries (Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe) at the narrow Caprivi Strip with a total of 16 districts and a population of 1.5 million people at risk of malaria. Its vision is a “Malaria free Trans-Zambezi communities, with social and economic prosperity by 2020.”

In its key health strategic documents, SADC has identified cross border malaria engagement between countries in the region as strategic in reducing malaria transmission and moving towards malaria pre-elimination.

Experts say that the Southern Africa’s region climatic and geographical features contribute to ideal conditions for a high natural prevalence of plasmodium falciparum parasite, the cause of the deadliest form of malaria. The transmission season for malaria generally extends from November to May. However, several rivers—including the Zambezi and its tributaries—cut through the region, and their seasonal flooding can result in prolonged malaria seasons, sometimes causing malaria epidemics.

“In the case of Zimbabwe, the river itself functions as an international border, with a steady flow of road traffic and travellers, thus both malaria vectors and parasites cross the river at any given time. Our borders are often remote, underdeveloped and impoverished, with limited access to health care services,” observed Dr. Madzorera, the Zimbabwean health minister.