HEALTH AND WELFARE

Understanding the causes of malaria prevalence in the Limpopo River Valley

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Scientists are engaged in combatting malaria in South Africa, alongside public institutions and malaria- affected local communities. A South African-French research team is leading a multidisciplinary programme to understand the environmental and social causes of malaria prevalence in the Limpopo River Valley, Vhembe District, Limpopo Province, bordering Zimbabwe.

In August 2019, the scientists involved in the Remote Sensing for Malaria Control (ReSMaCA) programme organized a field trip in the Limpopo River Valley. Its goal was to launch a new study and to follow-up on the other projects in the programme:

 Knowledge, Attitude and Practice survey

In order to understand the human behaviours and the socio-economic conditions encouraging malaria, a comprehensive study was launched among the local communities of three villages of the Limpopo River Valley region. Around 300 households will answer questionnaires on their housing conditions, their economic situation and their knowledge and attitude towards malaria. In comparison with a map showing the number of registered malaria cases in this area, the study will show which behaviours and housing conditions facilitate the spread of the disease. A Venda-speaking scientist will conduct the survey and encourage people to test their blood via Rapid Diagnostic Test to determine if positive or negative for malaria, while responding.

 Vector sampling and identification

Only the female Anopheles mosquito vector transmits malaria. Knowing the characteristics of this type of mosquito is crucial in understanding malaria prevalence. Scientist thus collected mosquito larvae and adult mosquitoes through the use of nets and traps. They wish to know more about where the mosquito vectors lay their eggs, breed and live, when and where they bite humans, and if they carry the deadly parasite that causes malaria. This is important in order to identify efficient and innovative methods and techniques to control vector mosquito numbers, without the use of toxic insecticides.

 Environmental study assisted by remote sensing

The prevalence of malaria also depends on the environmental characteristics of the area itself. Scientists use satellite image – that are updated every five days – to map the different uses of the land (for houses, agriculture, roads, rivers, forests, etc.) and to see the evolution of the environment according to the weather. A rainy period can, for example, precede a peak of malaria cases due to good conditions for malaria mosquitoes to breed. The use of remote sensing enables the researchers to analyse a large area and to advise decision makers on efficient ways to prevent those malaria peaks.

 Malaria awareness

Combatting malaria does not work without raising the knowledge and awareness of the local population on the mosquito vectors, the disease itself, and the different ways to prevent getting malaria. Researchers have been working in select primary schools to determine the best ways to increase awareness among young children. In three primary schools in the Niani Circuit, children were taught a song in Tshivenda, which gives practical advice like wearing long sleeves or staying inside when it is night in order to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. A comprehensive educational study will determine whether the song had any impact on the children’s knowledge about malaria and if this could aid in a change in the community’s attitude towards malaria. The aim is to use the song and other innovative awareness creation techniques in more of the schools in the area.

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