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Malawi Rolls Out Effort to Prevent Malaria Spread

FILE - Women wait to have their children vaccinated against malaria wait at an inoculation site in the Malawi village of Tomali, Dec. 11, 2019.
FILE - Women wait to have their children vaccinated against malaria wait at an inoculation site in the Malawi village of Tomali, Dec. 11, 2019.

Malawi has begun a mass distribution of mosquito nets, aiming to reach almost half the country’s population of 18 million people. Health authorities say the campaign is aimed at reducing the spread of malaria, which in Malawi currently accounts for 36% of all hospital outpatients and 15% of hospital admissions.

The Global Fund-supported campaign was announced during the commemoration of Southern Africa Development Community Malaria Day November 6 and is expected to be rolled out nationally November 15.

Khumbize Kandodo-Chiponda, Malawi’s minister of health, says the intervention is a response to the health threat malaria is posing in Malawi.

“So, one of the interventions is the distribution of the nets as vector control. As a country, we are going to distribute 9 million nets. Out target is that at least two Malawians should share a net. Our population we are targeting we are about 18 million, that why we reached the figure of 9 million,” Kandodo-Chiponda said.

She said during the campaign all expectant mothers will be given anti-malaria drugs to prevent them from suffering from malaria while pregnant.

Statistics show that malaria is the No. 1 deadly disease in Malawi. Last year alone, malaria killed 2,500 people in Malawi, more than any other disease, including COVID-19.

However, Kandodo-Chiponda said the campaign is strewn with challenges.

“And one of the challenges is that when you distribute the nets, you will find that, especially along the lake, these nets are used for fishing and sorts of things,” she said.

To reduce the changes of such misuse of the nets, the campaign also involves teaching the recipients about the importance of sleeping under the net.

The mosquito net distribution is part of the Zero Malaria Starts With Me campaign, launched by Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera in June as part of global campaign to end malaria by 2030.

Elias Mpedi Magosi, executive secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community, commended Malawi’s efforts to eradicate malaria and said the bloc is working to adopt a regional malaria strategy.

“Primarily because if one country, one member state removes or clears malaria, these mosquitos known no boundaries, they just relocate to another country. So, it requires a pooled regional effort, resources, attributes and behaviors so that it is eliminated,” Magosi said.

Janet Kayita, the World Health Organization country representative in Malawi, said the campaign is among major steps Malawi has successfully taken against malaria.

“Malawi has been exceptional in taking forward WHO recommendations on what to do, how to prevent malaria, how to treat malaria. But the most historic groundbreaking event in the last month actually, that Malawi is at the front of, is the information that is coming out about the new malaria vaccine for infants and children,” Kayita said.

Last month, the WHO endorsed the world's first malaria vaccine for children across Africa following a successful three-year trial in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

Although it is only 30% effective, scientists say the vaccine, known as Mosquirix, will have major impact against malaria in Africa, which records 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths per year.