Malaria cases increased by nearly 50% in five years

- Strategies to reduce infection, disease being rolled out

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By Vishani Ragobeer

Over the past five years, Guyana has seen a nearly 50 per cent increase in the number of malaria cases recorded locally, according to Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, who noted that strategies to aid with the reduction of infection are being rolled out.

“We have been working on reducing malaria in Guyana for a long time now but what we noticed is that while we probably would’ve had our lowest rates of malaria in 2015, we have noticed a steady increase in cases from 2015 onwards,” the Health Minister said on Friday, during his daily COVID-19 briefing.

He, subsequently, contended that there has been about a 46 per cent increase in the cases of malaria from 2015 to now.  Malaria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is a life-threatening but preventable and curable disease that is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

Furthermore, the WHO stated that the initial symptoms of malaria are fevers, headaches and chills and these can be mild and difficult to realise. Importantly, the WHO said that if malaria is not treated within 24 hours, it can progress to severe illness, often leading to death.

The incidence of malaria (per 1,000 population at risk) in Guyana for the period 2008 to 2018 (Graph done by World Bank)

Data from the WHO, compiled by the World Bank, shows that in 2015, the incidence of malaria per 1,000 population at-risk was 23.5. That figure gradually increased in subsequent years and in 2018 (the year with most recently available data), it was pegged at 44.4. What this means is that in every 1,000 individuals who are at risk of becoming infected with malaria, 44.4 individuals were actually infected.

“We are working hard to make sure that we can reduce these cases. Most of our cases are in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine and they account for about 94 per cent of our cases,” Dr Anthony highlighted also, adding: “Because you have a lot of people going in from the coastland to do mining and so forth, you will find coastlanders who go into the interior where malaria is endemic, get the disease.”

Last November, in a video published by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), Director of Vector Control Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Horace Cox stated: “Malaria continues to bother those that are in the hinterland communities where there are a lot of gold-mining and logging activities.”

Dr Cox also noted that the local authorities have recorded an increase in cases over the past three years and as such, emphasised that greater response efforts were needed.

On Friday, the Health Minister highlighted that a strategic plan to combat malaria has been developed. This plan, he related, encompasses a number of programmes that target the reduction and prevention of malaria.

One such plan is the distribution of some 95,000 long-lasting insecticide-treated nets in Regions One, Seven, Eight and Nine. Hammocks with nets will also be distributed specifically to mining camps where individuals are particularly vulnerable to malaria.

While presenting the 2021 National Budget in February, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr Ashni Singh highlighted that a total of 135,000 insecticidal nets will be distributed in 2021, with emphasis on areas deemed most vulnerable, such as mining towns and its nearby environs.

The Health Minister also highlighted that the ministry has upped its community engagement plans wherein 120 people in the four regions have been trained to help the Health Ministry roll out a malaria education programme.

“Hopefully, as we roll out these strategies and they take hold in the community, we’ll start seeing a reduction in the cases of malaria,” the Minister said, adding: “Our overall goal and that of the WHO is that the cases of malaria would be substantially reduced.”

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