People’s Easter pilgrimages to warmer places might mean that they will come home with malaria, health authorities have warned.

Although homesteads in high-risk areas in Limpopo and Mpumalanga have been sprayed with pesticides recently, Erick Mabunda, Deputy Director of Limpopo’s Malaria Institute, warned that malaria cases often peaked after the Easter break.

“For the past two seasons, we had peaks after Easter holidays. In 2017, we had outbreaks two weeks after these holidays when people came back from their respective countries, so even this year we have to be careful,” said Mabunda.

Masilo Motloutsi nearly died from malaria. Pic: Mogale Mojela

Masilo Motloutsi, from Khujwana Village outside Tzaneen, and two friends contacted the disease when they were working as contract labourers at Musina on the border with Zimbabwe in August last year. One of his friends succumbed to the disease.

“People should always go and test whenever they feel sick because you will never know what hit you until it’s late, as some symptoms are normal to us like headache and feeling weak,” said 23-year-old Motloutsi.

“I consider myself very fortunate and lucky as I was not aware what is happening to me. I didn’t know any symptoms of malaria. I first had a headache and my body got weak and I notified my mother and she took me to the clinic,” he said.

Almost died

Meanwhile, Mercy Nemavhola from Tshipako village near Thohoyandou, contracted malaria three years ago and almost died and now lives in fear of getting it again.

“I fought off death. By the time they found out that I had malaria, I was very sick and I couldn’t even eat on my own and it was already at an advanced stage. I thought I was going to die,” said Nemavhola.

She spent three weeks at Vhufuli hospital in 2016, while three of her siblings spent two weeks at the same hospital last year with malaria.

The entire Vhembe district is a malaria risk district, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), and with climate change and increasing temperatures, more and more areas throughout are becoming at risk of malaria.

Mathematical modelling by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that small increases in temperature are likely to have a significant effect on malaria transmission potential.

“Globally, temperature increases of 2 to 3ºC would increase the number of people who, in climatic terms, are at risk of malaria by around 3 to 5%, or several hundred million people,” according to the WHO, which warns that the seasonal duration of malaria will increase in many currently endemic areas.

Mercy Nemavhola lives in fear of malaria.Pic: Ndivhuwo Mukwevho.