In Sao Tome, funding fears overshadow gains against malaria

December 12, 2017

Credit: CC0 Public Domain
A big roadside poster announces a "Pest Control Campaign" in Sao Tome and Principe, with a man in a white face mask wielding an insecticide spray fuelled by a tank on his back.

The island nation in the Gulf of Guinea is at war against , as it has been twice a year since 2003, with such success that the disease no longer routinely claims lives.

In mainland central Africa, the incidence of malaria spread by infected female mosquitos is among the highest rates in the world.

Malaria killed some 445,000 people around the planet in 2016, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), out of 216 million estimated cases that year.

"Our last death was in 2016. It was a Portuguese man who failed to take measures for prevention and treatment," said Hamilton Nascimento, coordinator of the National Programme to Fight Paludism (PNLP) in Sao Tome.

In 2005, malaria claimed more than 5,000 lives out of about 50,000 infected people in Sao Tome and Principe, according to the WHO.

The humid tropical climate of the islands provides an ideal breeding ground for the female mosquitos that carry the parasitic infection from one person to another with their bloodsucking bites.

National priority

Yet since 2014, the number of deaths has fallen to none on Sao Tome, apart from the Portuguese victim. On Principe, lying to the north, malaria has been eradicated, in official terms.

The government wants to wipe it out everywhere by 2025, but the WHO has warned that a sizeable part of future funding is at risk.

The battle against a once endemic disease began as a national priority in the 1980s, in the wake of independence from Portugal in 1975, Nascimento told AFP.

The islands of Sao Tome and Principe, which have a combined land surface of 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles), benefit from their offshore location west of Gabon and from a small population of less than 200,000 inhabitants.

"We have three strategies: spraying inside houses, distributing mosquito nets impregnated (with insecticide) and the fight against larvae using a biological insecticide that we spread in stagnant waters," Nascimento said.

The population of Sao Tome also has access to free medication to treat malaria and to testing campaigns nationwide. If a case of malaria is detected, "the hospital follows up the patient for 28 days," he added.

"Sick people are given free care by the health centres and medicine is accessible everywhere in the country."

For all the successes in tackling a disease that has no available vaccine and is prone to mutate, residents of the islands have begun to grow weary of the repeated campaigns.

"The number of people who open their doors to the mosquito sprayers has gone down," Health Minister Maria Jesus Trovoada said, concerned that this refusal to take part "puts all the efforts of the government in peril".

Authorities in Sao Tome and Principe have been clear about their desire to reduce dependence on foreign aid, which accounts for about 90 percent of the nation's resources, and the battle with malaria is part of that goal.

At the end of the 1980s and again in 2012-2013, the disease ravaged the country because of a shortfall in funding and spreading resistance to insecticides, Hamilton said.

"We must often—about every 10 years—change the insecticide, because the mosquitos develop resistance," he explained.

Funding cuts?

While the government recently stepped up its contribution, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a foundation partnered with the WHO, finances most measures to beat the disease on the islands.

The grant from the Global Fund may be slashed by more than 50 percent, the WHO warned in a recent report. Sao Tome and Principe would then "need more or less $5 million (4.2 million euros) between 2018 and 2021 to go on getting good results".

"The impact of lack of funding is unknown. However, if current efforts to control malaria have to be reduced due to lack of funds a high risk of a relapse exists," Rebekka Ott, the Global Fund representative on Sao Tome, told AFP.

The foundation is also concerned about Sao Tome's cutting of diplomatic ties with Taiwan at the end of 2016 in order to develop relations with China. Taiwan previously paid more than 30 percent of the cost of fighting malaria.

China, whose flag has already been mounted at the National Centre for Endemics, is expected to take up the baton, but by providing "technical assistance" rather than financial aid.

Whatever the obstacles, the WHO announced in April 2016 that 21 countries in the world may eliminate malaria by 2020. Six of those nations are in Africa: Algeria, Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, Swaziland and South Africa.

Explore further: Flood-hit Niger launches campaign to fight malaria

Related Stories

Flood-hit Niger launches campaign to fight malaria

September 8, 2017
Niger has launched a campaign to destroy mosquito breeding sites in the capital in the wake of heavy rains that have lashed the city since June.

Swaziland makes progress in quest to eliminate malaria

November 18, 2015
Swaziland could eliminate malaria by the end of 2016 or in early 2017, likely making it the first mainland country in sub-Saharan Africa to get rid of the deadly disease, according to an international health expert.

Lack of funds threatens malaria progress: WHO

December 13, 2016
Global progress on controlling malaria risks stalling due to an "urgent need" for more funding, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in its annual report on Tuesday.

What 115 years of data tells us about Africa's battle with malaria past and present

October 17, 2017
It's difficult to accurately measure the number of people who get malaria each year. This is because the malaria symptoms are shared with many other diseases that lead to death or illness, especially among young children.

Recommended for you

Drug targets for Ebola, Dengue, and Zika viruses found in lab study

December 13, 2018
No drugs are currently available to treat Ebola, Dengue, or Zika viruses, which infect millions of people every year and result in severe illness, birth defects, and even death. New research from the Gladstone Institutes ...

Faster test for Ebola shows promising results in field trials

December 13, 2018
A team of researchers with members from the U.S., Senegal and Guinea, in cooperation with Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), has developed a faster test for the Ebola virus than those currently in use. In their paper published ...

Researchers discover new interactions between Ebola virus and human proteins

December 13, 2018
Several new connections have been discovered between the proteins of the Ebola virus and human host cells, a finding that provides insight on ways to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from reproducing and could lead to novel ...

Urbanisation and air travel leading to growing risk of pandemic

December 13, 2018
Increased arrivals by air and urbanisation are the two main factors leading to a growing vulnerability to pandemics in our cities, a University of Sydney research team has found.

Faecal transplants, 'robotic guts' and the fight against deadly gut bugs

December 13, 2018
A simple compound found in our gut could help to stop dangerous bacteria behind severe, and sometimes fatal, hospital infections.

Taking the virus out of a mosquito's bite

December 12, 2018
They approach with the telltale sign—a high-pitched whine. It's a warning that you are a mosquito's next meal. But that mosquito might carry a virus, and now the virus is in you. Now, with the help of state-of-the-art technology, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.