MORE than six million cases of malaria have been recorded in the East African republic of Burundi this year, more than half the country’s 11.5 million population, the World Health Organization has reported.
Aid agencies are warning that a further one million children are at risk of contracting the disease before Christmas.
The country has been in the grip of a malaria outbreak for more than two years: there have been 19.7 million cases and nine thousand deaths from the disease since 2015.
In the eastern and northern parts of the country — where the epidemic is at its most rampant — clinics are reporting that the same patients are suffering from repeated attacks of malaria.
Burundi’s government declared it an epidemic in March, and has developed an emergency plan to tackle the spread of the disease, although this is only three-quarters funded. The country is also going through a political crisis, provoked by the announcement by the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, that he would stay in power for a third term (News, 27 October).
A subsequent coup was quashed, and there has been widespread violence. The International Criminal Court has now authorised an investigation into alleged state-sponsored crimes against humanity.
The senior technical manager at the charity World Vision Burundi, Dr Hatsindimana Jean, said: “Traditionally malaria cases spike in December and January. Children are the most vulnerable to the disease, as they don’t have the strong immune systems to fight off the effects of malaria, particularly if they are malnourished. The vast majority of people rushed to health clinics are children under the age of 18.”
World Vision said that its malaria response had so far reached 1.1 million people, and included the provision of nets, medication, and training to spot symptoms.
The Anglican Church of Burundi has also been running training to help combat malaria. A spokesman for the Church, known as the Église Anglicane du Burundi, said: “The training aimed to reach people still living under the threat of malaria by bringing together efforts from teachers in schools, and religious and community leaders, to spread information related to the fight against malaria to the population.
“The situation is worsened by the ignorance of a major part of the population regarding prevention against malaria.”
The Church has also distributed mosquito nets throughout the country, to help prevent the spread of the disease. “The use of mosquito nets is the most effective way to fight against malaria, but people still need to be trained on how and why they should use them,” the spokesman said.