Malaria deaths have nearly doubled in Chad this year, with 2,057 fatalities registered so far and around 780,000 cases diagnosed, aid groups say.
Erratic rainfall with intermittent dry spells may have encouraged the breeding of mosquitoes and the development of larvae into adult insects. Health experts are conducting studies to confirm the exact causes of this year’s high rates of infection.
“The hypothesis here is that closely-followed periods of rainfall help in destroying the larvae,” said Marie-Claire Mutanda, the deputy medical coordinator at Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland (MSF) in Chad. “Heavy rains interspersed with dry spells further increase mosquito population, transmission and cause a rise in malaria cases.”
The rainy season in Chad normally runs from July to November. The country’s southern Mayo Kebbi Est, Mayo Kebbi Ouest, Tandjile, Logone Occidental, as well as the capital, N’Djamena, were seriously hit by malaria infections. The highest cases were reported in the Massakory, Kelo and Am-Timam districts in the southern part of the country.
Earlier this year, forecasters predicted that the eastern Sahel region covering Chad was to receive near or below average rainfall between July and September. In 2012, torrential rains caused extensive flooding across the country; that year 501,000 cases of malaria and 1,101 deaths were registered.
Experts say that reported cases are beginning to stabilize, at around 40,000 cases per week.
“For the past two weeks, cases have stagnated. We could say that the epidemic is reaching its peak… and as it plateaus, it means that cases might start reducing soon,” Mutanda told IRIN.
But she pointed out that several other factors may have also contributed to the rise in malaria cases this year, including the possibility that improving access to healthcare likely led to more malaria diagnoses.
Malaria remains a major health problem in Chad, with a prevalence rate of nearly 30 percent across all age groups and about 36 percent among children younger than five years, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Malaria prevention is still very weak in Chad. This is due to poor public information,” said Lalaina Fatratra Andriamasinoro, the head of communication at UNICEF Chad. Just about 10 percent of children under five year old use long-life insecticide treated bed nets, the agency said.
“We also noted during this malaria epidemic that fever cases were brought to health centres quite late.”
In the worst-affected districts, the government of Chad, UNICEF and the World Health Organization have launched a broad response comprising the distribution of bed nets, medicines, malnutrition treatment for children under five, and the boosting of prenatal services such as vaccination and preventive malaria treatment.
“A child suffering malaria can easily get malnourished and vice-versa,” said Andriamasinoro.
In Chad, 33 percent of children aged 12-23 months are not vaccinated against childhood diseases, according to UNICEF. The country also has the highest rates of malnutrition in the Sahel and West Africa region.