It is cruising season in Vanuatu, and people from far and wide are here to sail and explore the archipelago. It’s the cool season too and thus the low transmission period of the year for Malaria and Dengue. In fact, Vanuatu enjoys up to seven months of a low transmission period for Malaria and Dengue fever.
The Vanuatu Ministry of Health, with the assistance of organizations such as AusAID, are tremendously proud to announce that malaria is almost eliminated in Vanuatu.
There are two types of malaria that have very long scientific names, and are abbreviated as PS and PV. PS responds to medication and can be eliminated completely with treatment. PV remains in the liver after treatment and can reactivate in times of stress and low immunity.
In 2013, only two cases of Malaria have been reported on Tanna Island. Both cases were of the PV type, which means that there has been no active transmission of malaria at all.
Malaria prevalence is measured by measuring the Annual Parasite Incidence. The latest API is 3.6% nationally which translates into less than 600 cases per year.
The highest prevalence of Malaria exists in Penama and Malampa provinces. In Tafea Province, malaria is almost entirely eliminated. And there are very few cases in Torba.
The Malaria Network in Vanuatu is very strong. Vanuatu boasts 100% bed net coverage. Mosquitoes transmit malaria at night, so sleeping under nets has had a huge impact upon prevalence of malaria in Vanuatu. Indoor Residual Spraying has been very effective and is being carried out in a sandwich technique, meaning IRS has begun from North and South working inwards towards the central islands.
Preventing Malaria & Dengue Fever:
Recommended precautions include:
- Applying mosquito repellant,
- Wearing long sleeves and long pants when in high mosquito areas, e.g. forests and populated places from dusk till dawn,
- Sleeping under a net if the room is not adequately screened or is built with natural materials,
- Eliminating standing water in the vicinity.
Symptoms and treatment of Malaria:
The most common symptom of Malaria is fever. Should you develop a fever, it is most likely not malaria. However please insist upon an RDT. This is a Rapid Detection Test, available at health centers throughout Vanuatu. With a small drop of blood, the RDT can detect parasites within 5 minutes. Treatment for Malaria is also readily available. A three-day course of medication will quickly eradicate Malaria. Treating the fever without taking malaria medication results in high parasite levels and poses a significant threat to a person’s health and can be fatal.
So what about Dengue Fever? Due to the concerted and measurable efforts of the Malaria Network, dengue in Vanuatu has also been significantly reduced. Also, unlike the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu has a cool period, which results in a low transmission period of up to seven months.
Dengue Fever Facts:
Dengue is found in urban centers with crowded populations and lots of standing water. There were five reported cases of Dengue in the past year, however when the blood was sent for analysis it was found to be a water-born Leptospirosis and not Dengue causing the symptoms. There has been one death from Dengue this year, however the deceased had recently returned from the Solomon Islands, where dengue is transmitted all year round.
Mosquitoes transmit Dengue at dawn and dusk, so remaining cautious from sunset to full sunrise is important. Port Vila has not had an outbreak of Dengue in over ten years, and is much less prevalent in the islands where there is low population density. There is no treatment for Dengue, except to treat symptoms with pain and fever medication. Dengue will feel much like the flu and lasts up to several days.
Through March to November / December, it is very unlikely to contract Malaria or Dengue in Vanuatu. Consistent use of precautions all year round is recommended.
For cruising yachts, the risk is exceptionally low as the vessel itself is isolated from people and bush. Crew can diligently inspect cabins for mosquitoes and ensure the interior remains sealed from the outdoors by keeping doors and hatches closed before sunset and until after sunrise.
Vanuatu Yacht Services is grateful for information supplied by AusAID’s senior program manager for Health in Vanuatu, without whom this report would not be possible.