(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Gold panners among rising malaria cases

A line drawing of a mosquito that transmits malaria (Anopheles gambiae), dorsal view. Date: 1999

Malaria is worse than usual in Zimbabwe this year with many illegal gold panners among the new cases reported since the beginning of the year.

The latest United Nations Development Programme Situation Report said on Wednesday that almost 29,000 cases of the disease have been reported this year.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 90 percent of deaths due to malaria occur in Africa south of the Sahara, and most deaths occur in children under the age of five.

An official at WHO told IRIN the increase in Zimbabwe could be attributed to the after effects of cyclone Japhet which struck parts of the country earlier this year, leaving floods that provided breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

He said the most affected areas were in Gokwe, Kadoma, Hurungwe and Kariba in the west, and Bindura and Shamva in the northeast of the country. Those affected were "across the board" - men, women and children.

Health workers also noticed that many new cases occurred among the illegal gold panners working along rivers and in disused mines throughout the country.

As Zimbabwe's economic crisis deepens, many people have turned to illegal gold panning as a way of supporting themselves and their families through rising inflation, unemployment and food shortages.

The gold panners were particularly susceptible to malaria as many had migrated from non-malaria areas and had no immunity. They also didn't have sufficient knowledge of the potentially fatal disease and did not take precautions, the official told IRIN.

He said the unstructured nature of their work made it difficult for health workers to reach them, but WHO is currently working with the ministry of health to give them prophylaxis and health education materials. In the longer term they will also receive mosquito nets.

WHO has already secured anti-malarial drugs and supplies, which have been distributed to some of the most affected districts by various NGOs, while the ministry of health had increased its malaria-fighting budget.

It is hoped that the onset of winter will see case numbers drop.

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