Namibia winning malaria battle

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Neville Isdell (L), co-founder of the Isdell Flowers Foundation Cross-Border Malaria Initiative and Dr Richard Kamwi the Minister of Health and Social Services

KATIMA MULILO – Namibia has made great strides in the reduction of deaths related to malaria that claimed 7 000 lives at independence to just 10 deaths in 2013.

Because of concerted scientific efforts by the Ministry of Health and Social Services Namibia has reduced malaria cases by over 90 percent in the last two years.

Less than 3 000 cases and only 10 deaths were reported at the close of 2013 in sharp contrast to the about 7 000 lives that were lost at about independence in 1990. What was most alarming about that figure is the fact that Namibia’s population at that time was officially only 1.5 million.

The latest progress in the malaria battle were revealed by the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, at the opening of the second annual Isdell Flowers Foundation Cross-Border Malaria Initiative attended by non-governmental organisations involved in malaria eradication programmes from SADC countries at Katima Mulilo. The meeting took place at Katima Mulilo on Tuesday night.

Kamwi whose PhD dissertation focused on malaria said the fight to eradicate malaria “is a personal one”.

“Malaria elimination is one of my personal goals. My work and studies centred on the control of the disease since I took office. My brother who fought for the liberation of this country alongside me died of malaria instead of a bullet. Since then I have declared war on malaria,” said Kamwi to loud applause.

According to Kamwi the achievements did not however come on a silver platter as considerable efforts were made to reduce the mosquito-transmitted disease.

“Achieving these drastic declines did not come easy. For years the country has prided itself in good vector control coverage, from indoor residual spraying to the distribution and promotion of long-lasting insecticide treated bed sets. As a public health practitioner, the priority should be to focus on prevention rather than just cure,” stated the health minister.

He further said operational research undertaken by his ministry and its partners culminated in cross-border collaboration in efforts aimed at containing the disease in the entire SADC region.  The latter gave birth to the cross-border malaria initiative funded by the Isdell Flowers Foundation.

“After research studies, one common theme that kept reoccurring was the need for cross-border collaboration. On World Malaria Day in 2011, I and the Angolan health minister launched what is known as the Trans-Kunene Malaria Initiative that marked an important step in recognising the need to focus on cross-border malaria work,” he informed the round table meeting on Tuesday.

That idea has been replicated to other SADC countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, said Kamwi.

“Seeing regional efforts expand not only with Angola but with Zimbabwe and Zambia is a cause for celebration. We recognise that an individual country approach to what is a regional problem cannot be dealt with in isolation. We all know that malaria is a challenge that knows no borders and therefore must be tackled with similar strategies that equally know no borders,” he said.

He said given government’s seriousness towards the elimination of malaria, the budget geared towards this effort has been doubled and private partners such as the Global Fund and Isdell Flowers Foundation stepped in.

“Namibia has doubled its malaria budget over the next three years to ensure that communities remain protected. This year, government purchased 450 000 long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets enough to cover all at risk populations in the country for the next five years. The ministry also recognises funding agents such as the Global Fund and Isdell Flowers,” said the health minister.

The discussions on malaria eradication ended yesterday.

 

By George Sanzila

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