MINISTER of Health Sylvia Masebo has observed the need for rapid and effective responses as a way of avoiding malaria outbreaks amid the COVID pandemic.

In a statement, Tuesday, Masebo noted with concern the negative impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of Malaria services.

“Malaria continues to be a major public health concern in Zambia. Besides causing loss of lives, these two diseases have taken a heavy toll on the health systems; have weakened productivity of citizens and reduced economic growth at both household and national level, a predicament which is a cause of economic stagnation in our country and the region. Like COVID, malaria is not only a health problem, but a threat to socio-economic development, and it requires a multisectoral response,” she said.

“There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted negatively on the delivery of malaria services, such as the distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), indoor residual spraying (IRS), as well as malaria prevention using drugs. This is not only here in Zambia, but also at the global health financing level; while we appreciate the global focus on COVID-19 in terms of attention to its urgency and funding, we must not lose sight of other priority diseases we face, and malaria is one. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an urgent need for rapid and effective responses to avoid malaria outbreaks.”

She disclosed that over 7 million malaria cases were recorded in the country in 2020.

“In 2020, the country recorded a rise in malaria cases and deaths. During this year, a total of 7.8 million cases of malaria and 1,972 deaths due to malaria were reported. In 2021, we observed a reduction in the number of malaria cases and deaths. Our records show that between January and November of 2021, there were 6.2 million malaria cases and 1,223 deaths during the first 11 months of 2021. While this decline is encouraging, we are not where we should be as a country especially given that we set a target to eliminate malaria nationally,” she said.

The Health Minister said the government was committed to ensuring it eliminated malaria by taking drastic measures including at border points.

“The UPND led Government of the Republic of Zambia under the leadership of His Excellency the President Mr. Hakainde Hichilema recognises the need to further enhance malaria prevention and control interventions. This is to ensure that the reduction in malaria cases and deaths is sustained until Zambia is malaria free. We shall ensure that communities across the country are receiving at least one intervention for controlling mosquitoes, that is, either indoor residual spraying or long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets,” she said.

“I also need to emphasize that no country in the region should dream of eliminating malaria unilaterally because the borders remain porous, people easily cross borders for trade and family reasons, thus transmitting malaria parasites with them. Infected mosquitoes do not respect borders as they freely fly across borders and bite people on the other side. Therefore, cross border collaborations and initiatives remain key to malaria elimination in the region.”

She said it was unacceptable to record Malaria related deaths when ways to end the disease were available.

“We have the science and tools to end malaria. Malaria related deaths are thus unacceptable. Let us amplify voices for the acceleration of the implementation of the commitments to address gender inequalities and end women’s and children’s vulnerability to malaria. I therefore urge our local health experts and scientists to start gathering more evidence around the long–awaited malaria vaccine which has been hailed as a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” she said.

Meanwhile, Masebo disclosed that 1,215 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours representing a national positivity rate of 17 per cent.

“In the last 24 hours we recorded 1,215 new COVID-19 cases out of 7,267 tests conducted countrywide, giving a national positivity of 17%, the first time we have dropped to below 20% since 21st December, 2021. Similarly, we note that the positivity in all but two of the provinces has also dropped to below 20%; that is Eastern and North-western provinces, which recorded a positivity of 32% and 22% respectively. Our response teams are working diligently to ensure that we achieve reduced positivity throughout the country and that no province is left behind,” Masebo said.

“We saw an increase in the number of admissions in the last 24hours, with 53 new admissions made (compared to 29 the previous day). On the other hand, we discharged 1,893 patients, leaving 12,944 currently active cases nationwide. Of the current active cases, 205 (2%) are admitted to hospital with 96 (47%) on oxygen therapy and 24 (12%) classified as critically ill. The proportion of unvaccinated patients among the admissions remains high at 80% of current admissions.”

She stated that seven deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, all of whom were unvaccinated.

“We are encouraged to see the continued reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases recorded. A review of the statistics recorded in the past week shows a 43% reduction in the overall number of new cases, from 23,227 the previous week to 13,228. Of significance is the continued drop in the overall weekly positivity rate from 29% to 23%; the lowest daily positivity recorded during the week was 20%. Similarly, the overall number of new admissions also dropped by 32% from 432 to 294,”

“Sadly, we report seven deaths in the last 24 hours, all of whom were unvaccinated. Of these, two have been classified as COVID-19 deaths and five were COVID-19 associated deaths. The deaths were reported from Lusaka (3), Copperbelt (2), North-western (1) and Western (1) provinces,” said Masebo.