The fear of dengue epidemics and the dengue control campaigns that ensued may have suppressed the threat of malaria for some time, but a large chunk of Pakistan’s population is still at risk of contracting this mosquito-borne disease.
The healthcare policy makers and experts will mark the World Malaria Day on April 25th with a commitment to curb the spread of the disease.
“Currently, 50 million people in Pakistan are at high risk of contracting malaria. Last year 4,280,449 probable and confirmed cases of malaria were reported in Pakistan. Four countries in the world account for more than 80 per cent of the estimated cases and Pakistan is one of them. Total 22 per cent cases of malaria in the world are reported from Pakistan,” states a report on malaria by World Health Organization (WHO).
The Global Fund Grant, which is helping Pakistan to fight malaria along with the WHO, has indentified 38 districts in Pakistan that are highly endemic, said an official attached with the fund while talking to The Express Tribune.
“Punjab is the only province which is heading towards the elimination of malaria. The situation in other provinces is not satisfactory. Out of these 38 highly endemic districts, 15 are in Balochistan. This is highly alarming, given the fact that the population of the province is less than any other province in the country and area-wise it is the largest province. Ten highly endemic districts are in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and six in Punjab,” said a WHO expert on malaria. He added that Malaria endemicity is heterogeneous in Pakistan: approximately 24 per cent of the confirmed cases are caused by Plasmodium Falciparum and 76 per cent by Plasmodium Vivax. Alarmingly, almost 35 per cent of the confirmed cases originate in Baluchistan Province.
According to the WHO official, the main goals of the malaria control programme include effective malaria case management and multiple prevention measures including universal coverage. “Also, raising community awareness about malaria and enhancing technical and management capacity of the programme,” he said. This in turn helps with planning, managing and monitoring of malaria control interventions.
“The 3T strategy is recommended in eliminating malaria - Test, Treat and Track steps. This needs to be implemented in the country to eliminate malaria,” he maintained.
“The government in K-P and FATA doesn’t have enough commitment to deal with malaria. The patients of dengue are given priority, but malaria patients are often ignored. Even in Peshawar, no mosquito killing campaigns are launched, so what to talk of FATA. I have served in far-flung areas of this province and travelled to FATA, and I can say that many people with malaria are not even diagnosed properly,” said Dr Imtiaz Khattak, a consultant based in K-P.
While other provinces struggle to eliminate malaria, Punjab seems nearing the target. “The dengue epidemic of 2011 created much awareness among the people and the government also worked to mobilize people. Suspected dengue patients here are also given the anti-malaria cover. The number of malaria patients has considerably decreased in Punjab due to these measures,” said Dr Sohaib Zaidi, a consultant based in Lahore.
An official of Ministry of National Health Services said the ministry had a malaria control programme but all the provinces were running their independent malaria control programs as well. “The provinces are taking steps to eliminate this disease. Different activities including seminars and walks will be organized to create awareness about its prevention on World Malaria Day,” he maintained.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2014.
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