Malaria in Tanzania is a critical public health issue, with a significant impact on the country’s socio-economic status. Understanding its prevalence, the government’s response and the role of international initiatives is key to tackling this life-threatening disease.
Mosquitoes breed and spend the first part of their life cycle in water sources and thrive in hot, humid conditions. Malaria thus poses a severe water-related public health threat in Tanzania, including in the Rorya District where Maji Safi Group works, particularly affecting children under five, newborns, and pregnant women.
The malarial parasite matures in the human liver and then enters the bloodstream attacking the red blood cells. Severe malaria can especially lead to anemia and death. Cerebral malaria, a common manifestation in severe malaria, can lead to long-term and potentially lifelong disability. Malaria is a major cause of absenteeism from school and work in sub-Saharan Africa.
Addressing malaria requires a robust health system that is often not available in rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa. Detecting the disease requires microscopy, and treatment requires proper drugs, based on the severity of the illness and the age of the patient. Inadequate access to healthcare in high malarial regions has led to unnecessary morbidity and mortality, particularly in pregnant women and children under five, as well as drug resistance, as non-malarial fevers are often treated with malaria drugs, and improper dosages of drugs are applied. Resistance to first-line treatment drugs, such as sulfadoxine and pyrimethamine, has been increasing worldwide and has been demonstrated in children in Tanzania.
- 2003 was a high point in deaths due to malaria in Africa with 960,000.
- Although deaths have overall declined since 2003, they began trending up again in 2017.
- In 2020, there were 602,000 deaths due to malaria in Africa.
- Malaria parasites thrive in temperatures between 77°F (25°C) and 86°F (30°C).
- Malaria parasites are unable to complete their growth cycle in temperatures below 68°F (20°C).
- In sub-Saharan countries, global warming is increasing the land area with the ideal temperature zone for malaria parasites to thrive.
The Burden in Tanzania
Malaria places a severe burden on the health system in Tanzania, contributing to almost a quarter of all outpatient visits and a high number of expensive hospitalizations. Over 93% of Tanzanians live in malaria-endemic regions. According to the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), there are seven million malaria cases and over 25,000 deaths annually. Consequently, the disease hinders socioeconomic development and perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
Launched in 2005 by President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) started as a five-year initiative with the goal of reducing malaria deaths by 50% in 15 African countries. Thanks to the bipartisan support of Congress and the generosity of the American people, PMI now works in 24 partner countries in sub-Saharan Africa and three in Southeast Asia, thus working to address about 90% of the global malaria burden.
Prevention and Treatment Efforts
Tanzania has taken pro-active measures to address the issue and reduce the malaria burden. The Tanzanian government’s National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) plays a crucial role in coordinating efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat malaria. In addition, international organizations, such as the Global Fund, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United States President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), have collaborated with the Tanzanian government to provide funding, technical assistance, and expertise. Combating malaria requires an integrated and comprehensive approach encompassing various strategies, including the distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, preventative treatment for pregnant women, and ensuring access to rapid testing as well as timely and effective antimalarial treatments.
Maji Safi Group’s Community Efforts to Prevent Malaria
Maji Safi Group has contributed to these efforts to reduce the burden of malaria in the Rorya District through education and awareness campaigns on malaria prevention and proper use and maintenance of bed nets. In addition, MSG has provided testing for malaria in annual health screenings and prompt access to free treatment. Maji Safi Group’s WASH in Health Care Facilities Program has also helped ensure that local health centers have access to insecticide-treated bed nets for all in-patients and that healthcare workers, patients, and their families have access to educational materials on malaria prevention, testing, and treatment.
This year, the first ever malaria vaccine will be distributed to 18 million children in 12 African countries, but not including Tanzania, after a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi showed the vaccine to be safe for significantly reducing severe illness and deaths in children.
WHO: The RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is a vaccine that acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa. RTS is the first malaria vaccine recommended for use to prevent malaria in children in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
While supply is currently limited, a framework has been developed to help expand the distribution as the Vaccine Alliance GAVI, the WHO, UNICEF, and other international organizations work to increase the vaccine supply and expand distribution to more high-burden countries like Tanzania. In combination with community-based prevention, education, and surveillance efforts, the malaria vaccine could greatly help reduce morbidity and mortality in children. Maji Safi Group’s community-based health education and its use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to disseminate health information will be well-placed to aid in this effort and make a real difference in reducing the burden of malaria in the Rorya District and surrounding areas.
Tanzania’s efforts to reduce the burden of malaria demonstrate a significant commitment to public health and the well-being of its population. Through a comprehensive approach, encompassing prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, Tanzania has made commendable progress in combating malaria. However, sustained efforts, continued investments, and collaboration with local communities and international partners are vital to overcoming the remaining challenges and achieving the ultimate goal of malaria elimination in Tanzania.