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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Malaria, Africa’s greatest enemy

     Africa is a beautiful continent. It is not dark. It is a virgin land with a lot of unexploited natural and human resources. The continent is known for various species of birds, animals, rivers and mountains.
     It is the only continent with an enviable excellent record of hospitality worldwide. It is an emerging tourist destination in the world. No wonder the continent is becoming the toast of European and Asian investors.
     Many foreign tourists describe Africa as a “lovely and beautiful continent.” Raffaela, an Italian tourist friend described the Continent as a “heaven with malaria.”
     Malaria is a household name in Africa. It has become well known that even teenagers across the Continent could “diagnose” the disease and sometimes prepare concoctions (usually rural folks) as a cure to the disease.
     Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.
     Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache and vomiting and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after a mosquito bite.
    The disease is described as life-threatening by many experts. Mr Kwame Gakpey, a Behavioral Change Communication Specialist of the Ghana National Malaria Control Programme described malaria as not just a disease but a killer.
     Malaria Report 2009 states that half of the world’s population is at risk of the disease and an estimated 243 million cases led to nearly 863,000 deaths in 2008.
    It is said to be the number killer in Africa. An African child dies every 45 seconds of malaria. It is estimated that the Continent lose at least US Dollar 12 million per year in direct losses that’s through illness, treatment, premature death and many more than that in lost of economic growth according to a Global Malaria Action Plan.
     In Ghana for example, malaria is the number one cause of morbidity with about 37.5 per cent of all Out Patient Department attendances.
    In addition to its health toll, malaria places a heavy economic burden on many endemic countries on the Continent, contributing to the cycle of poverty and limiting economic development and the general beauty of the Continent.
     Over the past decade, there has been substantial progress raising awareness about malaria, its treatment and tools such as Long-Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs), indoor residual spraying (IRS) in which insecticides are sprayed on the walls of homes.
     Tools such as Intermittent Preventive Treatment (IPT) for pregnant women and vector control measures were all used based on scientific evidence yet the disease remained endemic on the Continent.
     This largely is due to misconceptions, perceptions and prevention and treatment barriers on the Continent. A large population of Africans even some urban dwellers consider malaria as a “normal” sickness. They see it as part of life for the African as such does not seek treatment for the disease with the belief that the disease will leave by itself.
     Many still hold the belief that some evil spirits cause malaria through nightmares and prefer seeking spiritual assistance in response to the disease to attending health facilities.
      It is also perceived that one could get malaria as long as one stays or work under the Sun, live in unventilated room or eat oily foods.
     A survey by the Ghana National Malaria Control Programme in 2007 indicates that while a large majority of people could state the role of mosquitoes in malaria transmission, many still hold additional and conflicting notions.
       These conflicting notions make them engage in practices that expose them to malaria. For instance many are still reluctant to use Artemisinin-Based Combination Therapy (ACTs) and others have problems sleeping in LLINs. Though many have the LLINs, usage is low as people complained that they do not feel comfortable in the net and that they feel like corpses.
     Some people leave empty cans, flower pots and dug outs to collect rain water to serve as breeding places for malaria infected mosquitoes while interestingly referring to refuse dumps and dirty gutters as breeding places for those mosquitoes.

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