Protect yourself against malaria
Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease, yet it continues to have a devastating impact around the world. In 2020 alone, an estimated 241 million new cases of malaria and 627 000 malaria-related deaths were reported in 85 countries. It is one of the six major causes of death from communicable diseases globally.
Facts about malaria
- Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. The parasites can remain in the liver for weeks before infecting the bloodstream, which is when people begin to feel ill.
- The first symptoms of malaria include fever, headache and chills. Symptoms usually appear 10 to 15 days after the infective mosquito bite.
- Almost 95% of malaria cases and deaths in 2020 were in Africa. Children under five years of age accounted for about 80% of all malaria deaths in the region.
- “Taxi malaria”, also called Odyssean or airport malaria, is transmitted by “hitchhiking” mosquitoes. Though rare, it should be considered if someone develops malaria symptoms without having travelled to a malaria-endemic area.
- The World Health Organization’s target is to reduce malaria incidence and mortality rates globally by at least 90% by 2030.
Malaria in South Africa
Malaria prevalence is low in South Africa and is currently limited to certain regions in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Annually, the authorities are notified of between 10 000 and 30 000 cases. The aim is to eliminate malaria by 2023.
In January 2022, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases reported a spike in malaria cases in South Africa, and warned that many people were being misdiagnosed with COVID-19 instead, since the early symptoms of both conditions are non-specific and similar.
Who are at risk?
Malaria can affect people of all ages. Infants, expectant mothers and people living with HIV/Aids, as well as people with poor immunity, are at a higher risk of contracting malaria and developing severe disease.
Malaria in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery and maternal death. It can be transmitted from the mother to the baby before or during delivery.
Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria.
Prevention is better than cure
Dr Albie de Frey, CEO of Travel Doctor Corporate, advises people in high-risk areas to avoid going outdoors between dusk and dawn, to cover up their arms and legs with clothing when they are outside, and to apply an effective DEET-containing insect repellent to all exposed body areas.
Other prevention options include sleeping under mosquito nets, using mosquito repellent pads and coils, and applying insecticide to baggage when leaving a high-risk area.
“No malaria prophylactic tablet is 100% effective in preventing malaria, but it is still crucial to take one of those available, as they offer a high level of protection,” says Dr de Frey.
People who don’t take malaria prophylaxis and then contract malaria can experience delirium and high fever. If left untreated, they can die.
“The Travel Doctor advises that pregnant women and children under five should best avoid high-risk malaria areas altogether. It is always best to follow your doctor’s advice,” says Dr de Frey.
The diagnosis and treatment of malaria qualify for prescribed minimum benefits (PMB) and must be funded in full by all medical schemes in terms of the Medical Schemes Act 131 of 1998. Medihelp members who are diagnosed with malaria must register the condition for PMB with Medihelp and receive treatment from designated service providers (DSPs) according to the PMB protocols for the condition. Medicine formularies apply to members of MedVital Elect, MedAdd Elect, MedPrime Elect and MedElect. PMB treatment may include consultations and services, medicine, hospitalisation and emergencies.