Monday, October 19, 2009

A shift in who is most vulnerable to malaria

Distributing mosquito nets to young children has been so effective that the most vulnerable group to malaria are now children from 5 to 19 years old. A new study shows a shift on the most vulnerable to the disease and calls for changed distribution methods.

From the East African, writer Dagi Kimani details the survey.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in the free online journal BMC Public Health says that the shift in vulnerability is due to the fact that younger children are more likely to have access to the few bednets already distributed than their older siblings, who also are exposed to bites by mosquito vectors when they are outdoors.

Data computed from 18 sub-Saharan Africa countries, including those in the East African Communities, from 2005 to 2009 shows that this trend of shifting vulnerability is generally the same across most malaria-endemic areas, the study says.

According to Dr Abdisalan Noor from the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (Kemri)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme who was lead researcher, the findings are significant because they touch on a huge demographic segment that has not received as much attention as it should from existing malaria control efforts.

“First, they (5-19 year olds) represent a large fraction of the population in most developing African communities,” said Dr Noor. “Second, while they may have developed immunity against clinical disease, they will not have developed immunity to the malaria parasite and will therefore continue to contribute transmission in the community.”

According to Dr Noor and his colleagues, the concentration of prevention activities to the most vulnerable — children under five and pregnant mothers — in a bid to meet the targets set by the Abuja Declaration and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) may have unwittingly left older children at risk.

This is despite the fact that they play a major role in the transmission cycle of malaria.

An estimated 80 per cent of human-to-mosquito transmission comes from those aged over five years, with young adolescents and older children being the peak transmitters.

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