Ministry of Health (MoH) says Malawi is on alert for any possible incident of a deadly form of plague which has so far killed 143 people in the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar.
MoH Principal Secretary Dr. Dan Namarika said in an interview yesterday the plague would be manageable if the disease were to cross into Malawi.
He said: “Yes, we have porous borders, but we have cross-border teams that interface with our Mozambique counterparts. It is around time that we meet again to discuss this matter but for now, phere is no need to alarm people.
“Our team in Preventative Health Services is very much aware of the dangers. We have a good team at CHSU [Community Health Services Unit] monitoring closely because the characteristics and symptoms might manifest similarly to other conditions.”
Namarika said his ministry, through CHSU and the Epidemiology Unit, which frequently consults with World Health Organisation (WHO) country office, would continue to highlight to clinicians in all the districts, reminding them of the symptoms of the plague.
“For now, the disease is still offshore, but we have infection prevention materials ready and groups and teams ready to be activated if there is a trigger,” he said.
The materials, according to Namarika, were sourced during preparation for eventualities of Ebola virus and bird flu a few years ago.
From August this year, there have been about 2 000 cases of plague and 143 deaths with a case fatality rate of seven percent, according to WHO.
The plague is a bacterial infection that is usually spread through bites by infected fleas on rodents whose symptoms include high fever and swollen and tender nodes.
About 33 deaths that the Ministry of Health in Madagascar has reported are associated with pneumonic plague—which is a more dangerous form of the disease affecting the lungs and transmitted through coughing at close range.
To prevent deaths and further spread of the virus, WHO has since delivered 1.2 million doses of antibiotics to fight the plague in Madagascar.
However, WHO has identified nine countries for plague preparedness and readiness. They include Mozambique and Tanzania which share borders with Malawi. South Africa, which has strong crossborder trade and travel links with Malawi, is also on the list.
WHO has also indicated that four African countries, among them Mozambique and South Africa, should accelerate preparedness at airports and ports of entry while Mozambique should include entry screening of travellers for detection of the plague.
Malawi’s borders with Mozambique are widely rated as porous such that some Mozambicans access health services in the borderline districts such as Mwanza, Ntcheu, Dedza and Nsanje where 26 villages were affected by the bubonic plague with 71 reported cases in 2002.
The 2002 plague was said to have originated from Mozambique’s northern border district of Mutarara.
In the Madagascar case, WHO found that of the 231 infections and 33 deaths reported since August are associated with pneumonic plague.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States of America has since issued a Level 2 alert, calling on travellers to Madagascar to practice enhanced precautions. n