(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Health officials seek to contain malaria

[Kyrgyzstan] An health worker testing blood in Osh.
David Swanson/IRIN

Kyrgyzstan is seeking to contain a malaria outbreak which has seen over 40 people infected so far this year. However, health officials point to a 40 percent drop in cases compared to the same period last year as a promising sign they are making progress in the fight against malaria.

"There have been more than 40 cases, but compared to last year that's lower. Last year there had been around 70 cases by this time," Nurbolot Usenbayev, manager of the Control of Malaria in Kyrgyzstan programme, told IRIN from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, on 17 July.

Healthcare specialists hope there will be an overall drop in malaria cases year-on-year in a sign that efforts to stabilise malaria rates in Kyrgyzstan are showing some success.

"We are not expecting it to be worse [than last year]," Usenbayev said. "Our job is to stabilise the situation."

Registered malaria cases increased by nearly a third in 2006 on the previous year, with 320 cases compared to 226 cases in 2005. Rates have been rising sharply since 2004, when 93 cases were registered. Experts have been working to stabilise malaria rates since a major outbreak in 2002, which saw 2,744 people infected with the disease.

Northern regions of Kyrgyzstan - which are considered by the Kyrgyz State Sanitary Epidemiological Surveillance Service to be medium risk zones - have been worst hit so far this year.

Out of a total of 43 cases nationwide, three-quarters have been registered in northern areas. They include the capital, Bishkek, which - with 23 cases - has recorded over half of the nation's malaria diagnoses. The northern Chu Province has registered 10 cases.

Higher risk southern areas have recorded fewer cases, with seven in Batken Province, three in Jalal-Abad Province and none to date in Osh Province.

Treatment and prevention efforts are under way as part of the national anti-malaria strategy, said Usenbayev.

Two mobile groups set up to respond to outbreaks have been deployed, one in the north and one in the south. Chemical treatment has been carried out in risk areas and mosquito nets have been distributed, with 3,800 given out in Bishkek alone.

Awareness campaign

A public awareness campaign - which started in March, before the start of the malaria season - continues.

"A major strategy has been launched to involve civil society and the public in the fight against malaria," Usenbayev said. "I think this is a very effective method, because health workers can't reach everyone."

A national programme to set up rural health committees to carry out awareness-raising work at local level is under way - 500 have already been established and some 300 more are planned for this country of five million inhabitants.

The Control of Malaria strategy is drafting these committees into the fight against the disease, distributing brochures, CDs and videos to them to raise awareness of malaria in rural areas.

Three World Health Organization (WHO) consultants are working in Kyrgyzstan throughout the malaria season - which lasts from April/May to October - studying prevention and treatment methods, carrying out training and offering recommendations. Another WHO coordinator is due to arrive later this month.

Some US$3.4 million are allocated for the Control of Malaria strategy, which is in place up to 2010. It is 80 percent funded by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with the remainder financed by the Kyrgyz government and international organisations.

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