Zimbabwe grapples with surge in malaria cases amid COVID-19 fight

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FILE PHOTO: People queue to shop ahead of a nationwide 21-day lockdown called by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: People queue to shop ahead of a nationwide 21-day lockdown called by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 28, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

Zimbabwe’s struggling public health sector, already buckling under the pressure of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, now has to contend with a spike in malaria cases, according to an official of a doctors association.

Norman Matara, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, told AFP that the surge was an unfortunate coincidence given that the country was already battling another health crisis.

“We are beginning to see the cases rising,” Matara noted.

One dilemma of this increase in malaria cases is that some coronavirus cases may slip by as both diseases share the same symptoms.

One of the conditions can be mistaken for the other because some of the symptoms tend to be similar,” Matara added.

Earlier in the week, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health released figures showing an increase in malaria cases this year compared to a similar period in 2019.

“This year the cumulative malaria cases in the country stand at 170,303 and the deaths are 152 compared to 117,715 and 127 in 2019 over the same period,” the ministry tweeted.

The figures represent a 45 percent increase in malaria cases and a more than 20 percent increase in deaths from the disease.

Zimbabwe’s public health sector has been in a crisis having been hit by a number of strikes last year due to demands for better pay and working conditions and shortages of medicine and equipment. Majority of Zimbabweans who are unable to afford private healthcare rely on public hospitals.

The World Health Organisation has cautioned that the spread of the coronavirus pandemic risks derailing the fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa with the number of malaria deaths potentially doubling if efforts are not boosted.

The W.H.O. says the region needs to have prevention and treatment measures in place before the coronavirus overwhelms its health systems.

The W.H.O. also warned Zimbabwe against the risk of ignoring such diseases like malaria while focusing on the coronavirus pandemic. Zimbabwe has so far recorded 28 confirmed COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

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