The government said yesterday that the country is on the right path to drastically reduce malaria deaths despite a new global report showing that the disease kills twice as many people as earlier thought.
Health and Social Welfare Permanent Secretary Blandina Nyoni told The Citizen on Sunday that malaria was declining in Tanzania following concerted efforts to fight the disease by the government, donors and other partners.
She said numerous interventions under the National Malaria Control Programme meant that Tanzania was not among countries where the number of people dying of malaria was much higher than previously thought.
Ms Nyoni said significant progress had been made since comprehensive plans were launched to fight the killer disease. However, malaria is still the biggest killer of children under the age of five in Tanzania.
According to official government statistics, approximately 16-18 million cases of malaria occur annually, and account for over 40 per cent of all outpatients nationwide, resulting in 60,000-80,000 deaths each year. Malaria also consumes an estimated 3.4 per cent of national resources (GDP) per year, making it a major factor in the cycle of poverty and stifled economic performance in Tanzania.
President Jakaya Kikwete launched the ‘Zinduka’ programme in 2010 with ‘Malaria Haikubaliki’ as the clarion call.
A new global report shows that malaria kills more than 1.2 million people worldwide a year, nearly twice as many as previously thought.
Past studies had overlooked hundreds of thousands of deaths because they had wrongly assumed malaria overwhelmingly killed babies and focused their findings on under-fives, said the study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in the United States.
The new study, published in The Lancet medical journal, found 42 percent of deaths were actually among older children and adults.
The higher number of victims showed the need to increase funding to fight malaria, even as governments came under pressure to cut their aid budgets amid the global economic crisis, said the researchers.
“You learn in medical school that people exposed to malaria as children develop immunity and rarely die from malaria as adults,” said Christopher Murray, who led the study as IHME Director. “What we’ve found in hospital records, death records, surveys and other sources show that just is not the case.”
In their work, which used new data and computer modeling to build a historical database for malaria between 1980 and 2010, they found that more than 78,000 children aged five to 14, and more than 445,000 people aged 15 and older died from malaria in 2010. This means more than four in 10 of all malaria deaths were of people aged fives years and older.
Overall, malaria deaths worldwide rose from 995,000 in 1980 to a peak of 1.8 million in 2004, before falling again to 1.2 million in 2010, the study found. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest global report said the estimated number of malaria deaths fell to 655,000 in 2010, almost half the number in the IHME study.
The WHO, a United Nations agency, said on Friday it stood by its figures and said that much of the data used in the Lancet study had been based on verbal testimony by relatives of how people had died, not on laboratory diagnosis of samples.
“So we would say that again the great majority of deaths would be in children under five and we stand by our estimates,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told a news briefing in Geneva. Both studies showed a downward trend in deaths in recent years, thanks largely to the use of anti-malaria drugs and insecticide-treated bed nets.
The new findings are part of an ongoing series generated by the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors 2010 Study. Global trends in child deaths, maternal deaths, breast cancer, and cervical cancer were released last year and more will be released in coming months.
Malaria is endemic in more than 100 countries worldwide but can be prevented by the use of bed nets and indoor spraying to keep the mosquitoes that carry the disease at bay.
Effective malaria drugs known as artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, can cure the infection but access to these medicines is often hampered in poor countries, where funding is limited and health services are patchy.
The IHME researchers said much of the decline in deaths was down to efforts by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, which was launched in 2001, and other anti-malaria organizations such as the WHO’s Roll Back Malaria campaign.
The IHME researchers also warned, as the WHO did in its December 2010 malaria report, that recent gains in the fight against the disease malaria could be reversed if global economic troubles stifle funding efforts.
It said an announcement by the Global Fund in November that it would cancel its next round of funding “casts a cloud over the future of malaria programs.
“If the Global Fund is weakened, the world could lose 40 percent of all the funding dedicated to fighting malaria,” said Stephen Lim, also at IHME and a co-author on the study.
(By Mkinga Mkinga, The Citizen)