Posted on April 25, 2015

In observance of World Malaria Day and as many residents make plans for their summer vacation, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is taking the opportunity to raise awareness on the dangers of malaria and the importance of taking preventive measures against the disease whilst traveling abroad. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2013 to 2015 theme for World Malaria Day is: “Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria”, which highlights the advances made in preventing and controlling malaria, and calls for continued international investment and action to eliminate malaria worldwide.

While malaria is not endemic in Qatar, hundreds of cases are diagnosed every year due to people who become infected when they travel to malaria-endemic countries. Dr. Hussam Al Soub, Senior Consultant of HMC’s Infectious Diseases Unit warned: “People who have resided for a long time in Qatar and other malaria-free countries (countries where there is no continuing local mosquito-borne malaria transmission) may have lowered immunity to malaria and are thus vulnerable to serious illness.”

Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. It can be a deadly disease, affecting about 198 million people and killing an estimated 584,000 in 2013, mostly among African children, according to the WHO. Malaria transmission is more intense in warmer regions closer to the equator. However, even in countries where malaria is endemic, people can opt to stay in elevated or mountainous regions where transmission is less likely to occur compared to areas near bodies of water.

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“Simple precautions can help prevent getting infected during visits to malaria-endemic areas, such as using mosquito-repellent creams and mosquito nets (particularly insecticide-treated nets), wearing long sleeves and long pants to cover your skin, and avoiding going outside at night,” said Dr. Al Soub.

“People who plan to travel should consult their doctor or visit a clinic that offers travel medicine, such as the one at Mesaimeer Primary Health Center, preferably two to three weeks before their departure, so they can get general advice and be given prophylactic (preventive) medications if needed. It is important to start taking this medication before travel, during travel and after coming back, as advised by their doctor. There are currently no licensed vaccines against malaria,” said Dr. Al Soub.

People coming back from their travel should visit their health center immediately if they experience chills, fever, headache, diarrhea, nausea and or vomiting, and tell their doctor if they suspect they may have been infected from their travel. Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria is important as the infection can quickly progress to severe illness, which can sometimes result in death. As well as travelers coming from malaria-free countries and people with a lowered immune system due to other reasons such as illness, people at greater risk of developing severe illness from malaria also includes children, pregnant women and the elderly.

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