Far fewer people seeking malaria treatment - Health Ministry

KABUL, 4 August 2008 (IRIN) - The number of people seeking malaria treatment in Afghanistan has declined significantly over the past six months, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has said.

Statistics compiled by the National Malaria and Leishmaniasis Control Programme (NMLCP) indicate a 60 percent reduction in malaria cases from January to July 2008 compared to the same period last year.

"In the past six months 50,000 malaria cases have been reported across the country. In the same period last year 200,000 cases were reported," Najibullah Safi, director of the NMLCP, told IRIN in Kabul.

Health officials said the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and improved public awareness had contributed to the reduction in the number of malaria patients.

The MoPH said it had distributed up to 900,000 bed nets in areas highly vulnerable to malaria since March 2008, and that it had been able to do this thanks to donor funding.

Sarwar Hakim, a lecturer at THE Kabul Medical Institute, said the decrease in the number of malaria cases could be attributed to drought.

"Most draining and standing waters have dried up due to drought and this has affected malaria reproduction," Hakim told IRIN. "High temperatures and extremely hot weather is also detrimental to malaria nests," he added.

Over half of the country's estimated 26.6 million people are living in malaria-prone areas, according to the MoPH.

The MoPH and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that every year there are up to 1.5 million cases of malaria, but most go undiagnosed.

Improved health service

Thanks to expanding health services over the past six years - despite sporadic setbacks caused by the violence - Afghanistan has seen a 26 percent decline in under-five mortality rate, the World Bank reported in July.

"More than 80,000 lives are being saved every year," the Bank said.

The expansion is taking place mainly in remote areas where previously there were no health centres. Malaria treatment is part of a basic health services package, which the MoPH, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, provides through 1,429 existing health centres nationwide.

Furthermore, some international donors, such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID), have agreed to increase funding to the MoPH to consolidate and expand the provision of basic health services, which currently reach over 80 percent of the country. USAID has agreed to provide US$70 million, in addition to the $218 million it has pledged for the development of the health sector in the coming five years, the MoPH said in a statement.

Other possible explanations

There are other possible explanations for the drop in the number of people seeking treatment for malaria.

IRIN recently reported on the closure of some 50 health centres in southern areas due to threats and insecurity. However, the MoPH said this did not mean people had stopped seeking treatment elsewhere.

Increased fuel costs had also not prevented people seeking treatment, it suggested, and a detailed study would need to be carried out to ascertain if this year’s weather, or global warming, had had any impact on the latest malaria figures. 

A map of malaria risk in Afghanistan

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


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