Malaria, one of the six priority communicable diseases according to the World Health Organisation affects around 300,000 Pakistanis annually, killing about 50,000 of them.
Hence, innovative modes of treatment are required to manage its spread, said National University of Medical Sciences (NUMS)Department of Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Dr Shumaila Naz on Sunday.
The world commemorates World Malaria Day on April 25 to create awareness, and the WHO theme for this year was ‘Zero Malaria - Draw the Line against Malaria’ which is still a life-threatening disease the world over.
With one million estimated cases each year, Pakistan is among seven countries of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, sharing 98 per cent of the total regional malaria burden.
Of the deaths caused by malaria in Pakistan, the overwhelming majority are in children aged five or younger, said Dr Shumaila who has conducted research on the genetic diversity of the malaria parasite found in Pakistan and plans to carry her work forward to help strengthen efforts of its eradication.
An estimated 98 per cent of the population (205 million) is at varying risk while around 60 per cent (123 million) is at high risk for malaria, she added.
Mosquitoes which carry the malaria-causing parasite, are the main source of its spread as about 60 per cent of the country's population lives in malaria-endemic regions, said Dr Shumaila.
Emphasising the need for concerted efforts to eradicate malaria, NUMS Vice Chancellor Lt Gen (retd) Syed Muhammad Imran Majeed said, “The government, private sector, civil society organisations and development partners need to work together to expand the available effective malaria control interventions for the introduction of new interventions and technologies for improving quality in diagnosis, treatment and preventive measures.”
The key underlying risk factors for malaria outbreaks in Pakistan include unpredictable transmission patterns, low immune status of the population, poor socioeconomic conditions and mass population movements within the country and across international borders with Iran and Afghanistan.
Malaria Eradication Programme with support of WHO, the United Nations Children's Fund and the United States Agency for International Development has since long been taking steps to reduce malaria-associated morbidity and mortality by keeping the disease under effective control.
One million long-lasting insecticide-treated nets have been distributed free of cost through the Global Fund grant in support of 19 target districts of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2021.