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Bed Nets, Drought Help Eritrea Slash Malaria Rate

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Malaria infections in Eritrea have fallen sharply in the last few years thanks to increased use of bed nets and a drought which has dried up mosquito breeding sites, a senior health official said on Tuesday.

“We are working now for further successes, and also to sustain what we have achieved so far,” said Tewolde Ghebremeskel, head of Eritrea’s National Malaria Control Programme. Data for malaria cases treated at health facilities around the Red Sea state show a fall of nearly 85 percent since 1999 — down from almost 180,000 reported cases at that time to 28,000 in 2004. Ghebremeskel said the key reason for the decline was the government’s distribution of bed nets. Insecticide-treated nets have been shown to cut malaria transmission by up to 90 percent. “We have distributed more than a million nets in the past four years, so the coverage of bed nets really helped a lot,” he said. Official estimates put Eritrea’s population between 3.5 million and 4.4 million, but some experts say it may be as low as 3 million. Ghebremeskel said the environmental management and control of mosquito breeding sites also had an impact and was an important part of fighting the disease. “You have to be able to work on the environment, local breeding sites for mosquitoes; you have to be able to treat cases, and you have to work with communities and human beings. So it makes it complex.” DROUGHT Ghebremeskel acknowledged that four years of consistent drought in Eritrea had also had an effect, but said the government program was the key cause for success. “In 2003, we had really quite normal rainfall, and there were malaria epidemics in neighboring countries, but not here in Eritrea,” he said.Improvements in the health system also played a role, but swift treatment was still difficult because of the distances between villages and health centers. Eritrea has not had any malaria epidemics since the government’s program began in 2000, Ghebremeskel said, though the problem could always return. “The immunity of the population is getting low, and there is a cross-border concern also,” he said. “If the countries around us don’t go (down to) our level, then there is always a problem, because it could come from neighboring countries.” U.N. health officials say malaria may cost some African countries up to 1.3 percent of their annual economic growth. (Source: Reuters Health, United Nations Newswire, March 2005)

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Posted On: 11 March, 2005
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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