MORE than 150 international scientists, corporate scientific leaders, researchers and policy have descended on Nairobi, Kenya, for a mosquito conference. Held between October 6-8, the conference is the first Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA). It brings together local and international entomologists involved in mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria - a preventable and treatable disease that kills 785,000 people annually.
What is encouraging is that even though, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the region continues to bear the brunt of the global burden of malaria - in 2012 for example 80% of the estimated 207 million malaria cases worldwide were in the African Region - there has been great progress in Africa.
Here are some of the numbers:
- 10 star countries have achieved over 75% reductions in malaria cases in the last decade and are most likely to boot malaria out before the rest of Africa. These are: Cape Verde, Eritrea, Algeria, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, Sao Tome & Principe, Rwanda, Zanzibar Islands (Tanzania).
- By 2012, 34 countries in the African Region had adopted the WHO recommendation to provide insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to all persons at risk for malaria.
- 39 countries in Africa distribute ITNs for free.
- Between 2004-2010, the number of ITNs delivered annually by manufacturers to malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased from 6 million to 145 million.
- 36% of the population is sleeping under an ITN, meaning they are directly protected.
- Between 2000 and 2012, malaria mortality rates among children under-five years of age declined by 54%.
- Between 2000 and 2012, malaria death rates decreased by 49% in the population and by 54% among children under-five years of age.
- The number of people in high transmission areas fell from 218 million to 184 million
- The number of people benefiting from indoor residual spraying rose from 10 million in 2005 to 73 million in 2009, or approximately 10% of the population at risk.
These figures provide some relief considering the huge economic costs of malaria. Economists believe that malaria is responsible for a growth penalty of up to 1.3% in some African countries, severely restraining economic growth. This is because it keeps households in poverty, discourages domestic and foreign investment and tourism.
This progress is a direct result of the scaling up and acceleration of measures against the disease - specifically initiatives that control the malaria vector landscape. Malaria is a vector-borne disease, meaning it has to be spread through a “vector” species, which in this case are female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. In order to produce eggs, the female mosquito needs to feed on blood. Therefore the gains made in the fight against malaria are largely due to efforts aimed at killing mosquitoes.
These efforts include the use of insecticide treated or untreated bed nets, acting as a physical barrier between a person and mosquitoes. There are also projects that include the application of chemical insecticides on interior walls and roofs of all houses in a given area, killing vectors that rest on those surfaces. “Larviciding” is also carried out, reducing vector population growth by identifying larval habitats and acting on them to reduce mosquito larvae through the use of either chemical insecticides or biological tools. Some countries also carry out “space spraying”, the dispersion into the air of a diluted insecticide.
Reducing incidence of malaria have been largely due to efforts by governments, communities, donors, and individuals working in coordinated action to end malaria related deaths. This includes initiatives such as the 2010 “Roll Back Malaria Global Malaria Action Plan” and the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA). These partnerships have helped increase resources mobilisation, reduced duplication in efforts and have raises awareness of the problem at the global and regional level as well as created a network of technical and implementation experts for countries to draw on as they implement strategies to control malaria.
As the theme of this first Pan African Mosquito Control Association Annual Conference reads “Challenges of vector control in the malaria eradication era” - it is clear that they believe the end of the malaria burden is well within Africa’s sight.