World Malaria Day: Preventing illness at Path of Hope

On April 25, World Malaria Day, communities around the world are celebrating their successes in malaria control as well as educating on the continued need to maintain that momentum and stomp back malaria cases and malaria-related deaths. Malaria is a part of life for Lahash’s partners in East Africa. Path of Hope staff explain its impact for people in rural Tanzania. 

In northern Tanzania’s rural Shinyanga, Path of Hope staff and volunteers encounter about six children with malaria every week during their visits in their ministry of 150 kids, said program coordinator Saggiah T. Wright. Transmission of malaria is no different for staff. Someone is sick about every two weeks, said Wright.

“Malaria is the most prevalent and one of the killer diseases in Shinyanga,” said Wright.

It’s so common in Sinyanga that many people don’t take it seriously. “Every disease with somewhat similar symptoms is confused for malaria,” said Wright. “This has led to rampant self medication and or ignorance of the symptoms thus putting the lives of the victims in danger because of wrong drug prescription and lack of medical attention.”

Malaria is a blood disease caused by parasites transmitted through the bite of mosquitos.

In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is the leading cause of death in children under five. In Sinyanga, pregnant women are susceptible to one of the most dangerous forms of malaria transmitted by the parasite P. falciparum. While the mother may have acquired bodily immunity against malaria, the parasite can still be present in the placenta causing maternal anaemia. Anaemia in the mother can cause low birth weight, which contributes to infant mortality.

In 2015, there were 214 million documented cases in 97 countries, according to the World Health Organization—that means about half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria.

Malaria significantly reduces productivity having an especially devastating impact in poor regions.

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“Children do not attend school during the times they are sick. This contributes to low performance in school academic work,” said Wright.

Both the ill and the caretakers lose valuable time away from income-generating activities. Treatment can also be very costly depending on the severity of the case. In a rural area, that could mean paying for transportation to a hospital and medical charges can be high at private facilities.

Malaria and malaria-related illnesses and deaths costs Africa about $12 billion annually.

Having malaria is also emotionally stressful, said Wright. While patients worry about medical bills or access to healthcare, they also miss out on social activities and feel like they’re burdensome to others.

The good news is that malaria is very treatable in medical facilities in Sinyanga, said Wright, and malaria transmission is decreasing globally according to the World Health Organization. Malaria has decreased by 60 percent since 2000, and the latest goal is to reduce the number of cases by 90 percent of 2015 levels by 2030.

Path of Hope staff and volunteers conduct home visits every week to the 150 children that they sponsor. “If we identify any sick children during the visit, then we advise their caretakers to take them for medical checkup in the nearest health facility,” said Wright.

Support is available to child caretakers or parents that don’t have the money to pay for medical bills. It costs about $10 to purchase medication for a single case.

Path of Hope also hands out insecticide-treated bed nets, which cost $5. The nets last about one year, so annually, it costs $750 to ensure all of the children have a net.

Working to prevent malaria is the best strategy, said Wright. “Knowledge is thus, very key in understanding the disease. It is therefore important to educate the affected communities of the areas highlighted.”