Monday, June 7, 2010

Malaria in Venezuela

Miners, in search of gold and diamonds, fear a plague of malaria. “These workers have long caught the disease by venturing into forests where malaria-carrying mosquitoes live. Their strip-mines destroy patches of forest, leaving behind muddy pools and water contaminated with the mercury they use to separate gold from rock.”

“Malaria cases have doubled in Venezuela so far this year as health officials confront an epidemic in a vast southern region where wildcat gold miners are often infected in remote jungle camps.”

Last year, the country reported 10,758 malaria cases. Already this year, 21,601 cases have been recorded. Most patients “were diagnosed in southern Bolivar state, where government officials say there is an epidemic. The statistics, which are updated weekly and circulated among some health officials, cover the period running from the start of the year through May 22.”

“Public health officials attribute the rise in malaria cases in part to a government-led operation this year in which soldiers have evicted thousands of miners from their illegal strip-mines.”

This government initiative displaced miners, who sought refuge in towns. With them, they brought disease and spread malaria into areas that were previously clean.

Dr. Ana Gineth Morales, who heads the Bolivar state Public Health Institute, expected this surge in malaria cases. “It hasn't taken us by surprise," Morales asserts, reassuring interviewers that her agency had been fully prepared. The Public Health Institute is “efficient in diagnosing, detecting." Despite the increase in cases of malaria, few people have died.

But some critics say the malaria situation appears to be out of control.

"We expect malaria cases will keep increasing," said Dr. Angel Granados, of the Bolivar state Medical Association. Granados cites the recent rain and continual movement of miners as contributing causes. “Public health teams haven't been reaching many remote areas including indigenous communities to detect and treat cases,” Granados said.

Granados reminded officials that, earlier this year, one Yekuana Indian community “reported six deaths — including three children and three adults — that came after they suffered high fevers and appeared to be due to malaria. But he said state health officials ruled out malaria saying the deaths were due to other causes and did not include them in their tally.”

James, Ian. “Malaria epidemic hits southern Venezuela.” Associated Press. 5 June 2010.

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