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Malaria Is A Medical Emergency: Early Diagnosis And Treatment Saves Lives

  • 3 min read
  • Limpopo, Mpumalanga and northern KZN are at risk

Malaria is a deadly infectious disease that kills over half a million people in Africa each year. Yet it is treatable, and nobody should die from the disease. This is according to Professor Lucille Blumberg who recently received a lifetime achievement award for her contribution to the elimination of malaria in southern Africa at the southern African Malaria Research Conference.

South Africans of all ages living in or visiting certain regions in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and northern KwaZulu-Natal are at risk. Many patients that present with malaria in South Africa have travelled to or from Mozambique.

Prof Blumberg, who heads local NPO Right to Care’s One Health programme says, “It is devastating to see patients die from malaria when there are excellent tests as well as drugs for treatment. Health resources were diverted to Covid-19 during the pandemic which has contributed to a decrease in awareness about malaria.”

Malaria infection is caused by a parasite and spreads to humans through mosquitoes. Malaria is not always preventable, but it is treatable. Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches and tiredness.

“Many people who develop fever or flu symptoms think it is Covid-19 or influenza, so they do not go to a health facility. If you live in or have travelled to a malaria area and you have symptoms it is critical to go to a health facility and inform your healthcare provider that you have been in a malaria area,” says Prof Blumberg.

The major malaria season usually runs from September to May, but cases do occur throughout the year. Malaria progresses very rapidly and requires quick diagnosis and treatment. With the right treatment there is a recovery rate of almost 100%. Waiting a day or two before treating malaria could be fatal.

Prof Blumberg concludes, “The South African Malaria Control Programme has made positive progress over the past 20 years to halt local malaria transmission in our malaria areas.”

Commenting on her award, Prof Blumberg says, “I am inspired to continue my work in infectious diseases, and particularly in malaria. Public health always requires a team effort. Every healthcare worker and every community member play a role in saving lives.”

Professor Rajendra Maharaj, unit director with the South Africa Medical Research Centre Malaria Research Group, says, “Prof Blumberg is an outstanding leader in public health, whose quality of work continues to raise public health standards and to whom colleagues see as a role model. She has a track record of building the public health capacity of younger individuals through teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in clinical microbiology and travel medicine.”

Prof Blumberg is a member of a number of World Health Organization expert committees, including the scientific advisory groups for neglected tropical diseases and for research and development for the response to emerging pathogens. Her special interests are in tropical diseases, travel medicine, management of severe malaria, diagnosis of viral haemorrhagic fevers, and the prevention of rabies. She has worked in the field of malaria and has served as a member of the national malaria advisory committee for the past 28 years.”