Football: Malaria Awareness or Malaria Vector

With the 2010 World Cup taking place in Africa, a great opportunity became available to highlight health and development issues on the continent. One of those issues was malaria and the message was carried by a consortium of groups who formed United Against Malaria.

largefootballcharles-sm.jpgUAM has continued its efforts to advocate for malaria elimination beyond the World Cup. Late last year five CECAFA national teams joined UAM during the CECAFA Tusker Cup in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, from late November into December. The Ghana Football Association, as one example, featured its players in television documentaries about the devastating effects of the disease.

The very nature of competition among football clubs and associations requires travel within a country and among countries.  A news story out of Jamaica (which was declared malaria-free in 1966) yesterday highlights that football can also ‘transmit’ malaria between countries …

The Jamaican Ministry of Health has reported the confirmation of three cases of malaria among players of the Haitian under-17 football team who are in Jamaica to play in the CONCACAFUnder-17 championship in Montego Bay. The Haitian players are being treated. According to the Jamaica Observer, The Ministry of Health has recommended that in the circumstances they do not participate in the tournament and therefore return to Haiti. These arrangements are presently being made. The Ministry of Health has implemented mosquito control measures and a surveillance system to try to quickly identify any new cases.

Malaria truly has no borders, as stressed on World Malaria Day in 2008. Living on an island does not protect when both people and mosquitoes can travel.  Places like Jamaica and Mauritius need to be constantly vigilant – it is not just the high burden countries that need to worry about whether we can reach malaria elimination.

This is not Jamaica’s first brush with the risk of reintroduction of malaria. An upcoming Tropical Medicine and International Health article reported that in 2006 Jamaica successfully controlled an outbreak of Plasmodium falciparum with 406 confirmed cases. The outbreak highlighted the need for increased institutional capacity for surveillance, confirmation and treatment of malaria as well as effective prevention and control of outbreaks which can occur after elimination. Jamaica appears to have successfully eliminated malaria after its reintroduction.

The West Indian Medical Journal reminds us that, “All the essential malaria transmission conditions–vector, imported malaria organism and susceptible human host–now exist in most” Caribbean countries, this re-emphasizing the need for constant surveillance. The added saddness in the current story is that not only does Haiti continue to suffer from the devastation of last year’s earthquake, but itself has been the ‘victim’ of imported disease – cholera.

As long as people, including football teams and UN Peacekeepers, continue to move around the globe, the difficulty of eliminating diseases like malaria will remain. The lack of current cases of malaria in a country is not justification for complacency, especially if the environmental and vector conditions for transmission persist.

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