Covid-19 eclipses other fatal diseases

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RECENT reports that malaria — a deadly tropical disease — killed 364 people in Manicaland, Matabeleland South and Masvingo provinces are shocking, but also call for the government to revisit its public health policies, especially its management of diseases in the context of pandemics like coronavirus (Covid-19).

According to the World Health Organisation, over 361 000 cases of malaria were reported this year with 364 deaths. In the absence of early diagnosis and treatment, malaria can rapidly progress into severe illness and death. If not given appropriate attention, therefore, the disease has the potential to wipe whole communities off the face of the earth.

While the disease is rampant in low-lying areas where the malaria-causing anopheles mosquito thrives, aggressive control programmes, which included the provision of treated nets to communities in Muzarabani, South East Lowveld, parts of Masvingo, Matabeleland South, among others, as well as spraying of mosquito-breeding areas seem to have been hampered by Covid-19 limitations and restrictions.

Specific health programmes, including immunisation, nutrition and others that involve extensive travelling and meeting with communities, among others, also had to be shelved in line with the requirements of Covid-19 lockdown measures. However, no one bothered to explore the possible impact of the complete deferment of the programmes on communities.

On the other hand, without proper capacitation of local health workers to quickly respond to situations and learn the difference between malaria and Covid-19, patients suffering from the parasitic disease risk being turned away from health institutions on suspicion of being Covid-19 positive. This is because the early symptoms — including fever, chills, sweats, headache, vomiting, and body aches — are similar.

For Zimbabwe, the situation was worsened by the state of the country’s health institutions which were suffering from perennial shortages of drugs and other equipment, while staff have embarked on strikes countless times over salaries and conditions of service.

When pandemics like coronavirus occur, it is important to remember that other health programmes that have always been there must not stop lest the gains registered are completely eroded. Programmes like those for malaria must remain visible and continue to get the budgetary support they have traditionally enjoyed.

New and appropriate modalities have to be found so that interventions against diseases like malaria continue all the time and case management services, maintenance of safe environments for patients, clients and staff for malaria-prone communities must be ensured.

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