Malaria Stunts Economic Growth


By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK The economic burden wrought by malaria known for the deaths of innumerable lives, is an astronomical N$91.2 billion a year in Africa alone, and experts project that this disease slows down the continent’s economic growth by 1.3 percent a year. Speaking at a recent parasitological congress hosted at the University of Namibia (Unam), Dr Richard Kamwi, the Health and Social Services Minister noted that malaria contributes not only to the loss of lives and productivity, but it hampers social development. “While acknowledging that malaria is both preventable and curable, it is sad to note that it continues to cause severe socio-economic suffering, abject poverty, brain damage, other irreversible disabilities, and death,” he told delegates from South Africa and other countries who attended the 35th Congress of the Parasitological Association of Southern Africa (PARSA) at Unam. “Malaria is indeed a major public health problem and a leading cause of illness and death. It is most prevalent in northern areas of the country that constitute about 60 percent of the Namibian population,” noted the Minister. In 2002, malaria accounted for 26.4 percent of all outpatient cases, 21.6 percent of admissions and 8.6 percent of all hospital deaths in Namibia, he said. During the past five years, there has been an average of 450ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 outpatients, 30ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 malaria inpatients while up to a thousand deaths were registered through the Health Information System, said the minister who is an authority on the insect-borne disease. Kamwi said Namibia supports the present global campaign to promote the use of Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, from which the DDT abbreviation is derived. He said DDT indoor residual spraying of houses remains the mainstay of the present National Vector-borne Disease Control Programme (NVDCP) that is in place. Although Africa has effective interventions for the prevention and the control of common parasitic diseases, the challenge posed to control programmes is enormous. In the Forties DDT, once globally banned, was considered a miracle chemical which resulted in airplanes spraying thousands of tons of the pesticide, coating acres of crops, villages and cities with abandon. “By 1949, the US was malaria-free. Between 1955 and 1969, the Global Malaria Eradication also relied heavily on DDT. In Europe, India, South America, Africa – wherever it was used widely – DDT cut malaria drastically and saved millions of lives,” he stated, adding: “DDT is effective for residual insecticide for malaralia control.” Despite high malaria deaths, this proportion increases yearly due to deteriorating health systems, growing drug and insecticide resistance, climate changes, natural disasters and armed conflict. DDT is a highly hydrophobic, colourless solid with a weak chemical odour and is nearly insoluble in water but has good solubility in most organic solvents such as fat. Among the reasons being advanced by opponents for its banning is that it causes the thinning of the eggshells of the birds exposed to this chemical, but other experts argue that the thinness in eggshells is in fact as a result of calcium deficiency. The decline in bald eagle populations was also blamed on DDT usage, but researchers had dismissed this saying this species faced extinction even before the widespread use of DDT. Shooting, power-line electrocution, collisions in flight and poisoning from eating ducks contaminated by man-made substances, were found to be the major causes of eagle deaths. Professor Godwin Kaaya, head of the Biology Department at Unam, said the congress was attended by a hundred experts on parasitical diseases, many of them from Namibia and South Africa. He said the DDT ban was lifted mainly to counter the threat posed by drug-resistant mosquitoes. The main sponsors of the congress included the Ministry of Mines and Energy which availed funding for the venue, Geka Pharma, Ingaba Biotech and the Third World Academy of Sciences. Before the congress commenced, delegates were treated to a a meet-and-greet party.