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Updated 12 May 2017

Climate change fuelling Mpumalanga and Limpopo malaria outbreak

There has been an unseasonal malaria outbreak in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, fuelled by climate change and exacerbated by medicine shortages.

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There has been an unseasonal malaria outbreak in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, fuelled by climate change and exacerbated by medicine shortages.

Philip Kruger from the Limpopo Department of Health blamed the current upsurge of malaria on "a combination of factors, but the most important driver [is] climate related".

Final total unknown

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported that, by the end of March, almost 10 000 cases of malaria had been reported across the country.

But just two weeks ago, a second outbreak wreaked havoc on the health system.

In the last week of April alone, another 1 251 more cases were reported, followed by another 876 cases in the first week of May. The final total for the season is not yet known.

"During April, there was a worldwide shortage of malaria medication used for treating uncomplicated malaria at primary health care (clinic) level," said Kruger.

"The limited availability of [the drug Coartem] and the late April upsurge resulted in most patients not being treated at clinic level, but were referred to various hospitals [where patients were put on lengthy drips of an older medication]."

'Huge outbreaks' in neighbouring states

Various hospitals in Limpopo ran out of beds from the influx of patients. They were most "severely affected" over the long weekend from 27 April to 2 May, he said. 

But NICD deputy director Lucille Blumberg said the situation is improving since Coartem became available in the first week of May.

Rainy weather in neighbouring countries could have added to the severity of the situation as regional outbreaks "play a role" in malaria transmission in Limpopo, said Kruger, but the most significant cause of the recent outbreak is climate change.

He added that the "huge outbreaks" in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique and the widespread nature these "can only be climate related".

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