Zanzibar faces malaria surge despite past successes

Children sleeping under a mosquito net. Photo | Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • There has been a spike in malaria incidence due to mosquitoes finding a suitable nesting habitat in numerous parts of the Isles due to climate change, which has increased rain.

Dar es Salaam. Malaria has returned to Zanzibar as the islands deal with the effects of climate change, which have resulted in the resurgence of breeding grounds and a shift in the behaviour of anopheles mosquitoes.

Malaria is transmitted through the bite of an infected female anopheles mosquito; however, following a recent successful insect eradication effort, malaria cases in Zanzibar plummeted to near negligible levels (0.5 percent).

However, with climate change, which has seen an increase in rain, mosquitoes have found themselves a conducive breeding space in several locations of the Isles, resulting in a surge in malaria cases.

The community engagement officer for the malaria eradication programme in Zanzibar’s ministry of Health, Mr Mwinyi Khamis, told The Citizen yesterday that during the past two weeks (January 1 to 15, 2024), over 3,500 malaria cases have been reported in Unguja and Pemba.

“Anopheles mosquitoes have altered their behaviour since most people use mosquito nets in their houses; they now bite people outside when they are there,” he said.

He said out of 3,500 malaria cases, 80 percent involve people aged between 15 and 45, and most of them are men. 

“This is the age group that spends most of their time outside their homes working for their families to earn a living,” he said. 
According to him, the majority of people within that age group are usually outside and are heavily involved in the motorbike taxi business (bodaboda), exposing themselves to mosquitoes while waiting to transport people.

Mr Khamis mentioned that an unconducive environment has also contributed to malaria cases because people are dumping solid waste and baby diapers anyhow as it keeps raining, which attracts breeding sites for mosquitoes.

“Imported cases (interaction of people) is one of the other factors that led to malaria cases; for example, people in Zanzibar travel to different areas where malaria cases are; therefore, they come back with malaria parasites,” he said.

He noted that the situation is high because the highest prevalence rate of malaria in Zanzibar is 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent. “We have never gone beyond one percent.”

Currently, Zanzibar has a prevalence rate below one percent, the lowest in Tanzania, Eastern and Central Africa.

To curb the situation, Mr Khamis said that the government will continue executing multiple inventions as always.

He urged people to ensure they go for malaria testing whenever they suspect or feel symptoms of malaria.

“Those who are examined for malaria must make sure that they take the prescribed or recommended medicine and finish the dose” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the prevalence rate of malaria in Zanzibar is currently below one percent—the lowest in Tanzania and in Eastern and Central Africa.

The result is the best news from the review conducted in September 2022 by different stakeholders, including the government and development partners, to document the implementation of the Zanzibar Malaria Strategic Plan (MSP).

The review examined the performance of the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme (ZAMEP) and recommended improvements for the next plan. 

Over five years, Zanzibar’s malaria elimination strategic plan implemented seven strategic objectives. WHO has been supporting Zanzibar to implement those objectives and participated in the review.