Health minister: HIV response can help tackle malaria in Southern Africa

Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane, Swaziland’s minister of health and social welfare, has called for lessons learned from the HIV response in Southern Africa to be applied to the response to malaria.

Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane, Swaziland’s minister of health and social welfare, has called for lessons learned from the HIV response in Southern Africa to be applied to the response to malaria.

Simelane was speaking on World Malaria Day (25 April) in Livingstone, Zambia, about the need for early diagnostic and treatment systems to combat malaria in the border areas of Southern Africa, just as has been done in the mitigation of HIV and AIDS.

She added that community health workers, commonly referred to as foot soldiers in the work to tackle HIV and AIDS, should also be used in the fight against malaria.

“The experience from HIV shows that HIV testing and care centres have been established along the major transport corridors of the region, greatly complementing and expanding access to key populations. My key recommendation is to ensure that we understand the malaria drivers of transmission in the border areas and adopt our strategies accordingly,” Simelane said.

Tools to eliminate malaria

She called for the continued assessment of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) position in the quest to reduce morbidity and mortality from malaria.

“Although I realise that the countries in our SADC region are at different points of elimination, I would still like to point to all of us in that direction of elimination and to focus my remarks on the end game,” said Simelane.

“We know that our goal is ambitious, but technically I am convinced that we have the necessary tools to achieve elimination of malaria.”

She further praised Zambians for their continued use of traditional leaders in the fight against HIV and malaria, saying: “I congratulate Zambia for this intervention.”

Community health workers

The use of community health workers has enabled some countries to reach deep into communities, achieving significant impact in preventing HIV.

“I know from my experience in the use of community system for HIV care that we cannot underestimate the value of this cadre [of foot-soldiers] and that we need to creatively find ways to better use this viable resource…There is little or no room for poor implementation,” Simelane said.

Meanwhile Alan Magill, director of the malaria programme at the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, said that over US$1 billion has been spent globally in the fight against malaria and that the largest chunk of this amount has been used in the SADC region. “We think the will to eliminate malaria in Southern Africa is there,” he said.

Decrease in malaria deaths

Zambia’s minister of health Dr Joseph Kasonde said according to the health information management system data, incidence of malaria in Zambia increased from 330 affected people in every 1,000 in 2010 to 407 per 1,000 in 2014. He was, however, happy that malaria deaths had reduced from 6,684 to 3,218 from 2010 to 2014 respectively.

According to the latest estimates, released in December 2014 by the World Health Organization, there were about 198 million cases of malaria in 2013 and an estimated 584,000 deaths. Malaria mortality rates have fallen by 47 per cent globally since 2000 and by 54 per cent in the WHO African Region.

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