Success in the war against malaria is not guaranteed. Two articles to that effect have appeared The Citizen of Dar es Salaam following presentation of findings from the most recent (2015-16) Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (DHS)/Malaria Indicator Survey (MIS).
On Tuesday (21 June 2016) the news story noted the increase in malaria prevalence among children below the age of 5 years, which was attributed to “the decline in the use of mosquito nets and low distribution of nets to households.” Then in a Wednesday (22 June 2016) Editorial, the paper noted that this “backtracking” is a “worrisome situation, for malaria is a problem that puts such a heavy burden on the government and the country’s economy.”
A look at the preliminary DHS does confirm the concerns about insecticide treated nets (ITNs). After nearly 10 years of progress, reported ITN availability in households declined. This was reflected in a drop in reported use by children below 5 years of age as well as pregnant women. It should be noted that targets set in 2000 in the Roll Back Malaria Abuja Declaration had been 80% by the year 2010, and those had almost been achieved in 2012, but the fall to around 50% in 2015-16 is discouraging.
Another preventive measure has also faced difficulty. Pregnant women should receive doses of Sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) as part intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) during antenatal care (ANC). Until 2012 the recommendation was two contacts, but the World Health Organization has raised this to three or more depending on the number of times a woman attends ANC. So far IPT has not reached 40% or half of the Abuja target.
This low IPT coverage is ironic since most women attend ANC at least once in Tanzania. At present only 68% of women who had been pregnant received the first dose of IPT even though 98% registered for ANC. Granted that some may have registered in their first trimester when they would not yet be eligible for IPT, but the gap is quite large and signals missed opportunities, which are often caused by stock-outs. Even though the proportion of women attending up to ANC visits could be better, these attendances should produce better delivery of the 3rd IPT dose.
Malaria can also be controlled through prompt and appropriate treatment. While testing and treatment of children with appropriate artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has increased, this are is still problematic. In particular, while WHO recommends that all cases of fever should be tested, less than a third received a test (rapid diagnostic test – RDT or microscopy). Testing helps distinguish malaria from other fevers, and ACTs should not be given unless malaria is confirmed. We can see that more ACTs are provided than the number who were tested, so treatment based solely on signs and symptoms is still the norm. Again there is need to explore the availability of both RDTs and ACTs as factors that have made these targets difficult to achieve.
Tanzania continues to receive support from the Global Fund and the US President’s Malaria Initiative, among other partners. It is incumbent on all partners, global and national, to use these results as a wake up call to to plan for better delivery of malaria services and thus a reduction of both the economic and health burden of malaria in Tanzania.