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Malaria message "not being heeded"

The main sufferers of malaria are British travellers of African descent who are not protecting themselves when they travel to visit friends and family abroad.

Statistics show that more than eight out of 10 cases in UK residents last year were in people visiting relatives (81% of cases, where a reason for travel was stated).

Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, issued the warning to all travellers today, in the wake of Cheryl Cole's recent illness. But the message "know before you go" about malaria is often not heeded by people who routinely visit countries where malaria is endemic.

Even though malaria is not endemic in the UK, in 2009 there were 1,495 cases in those returning to or arriving in the UK. It's important that all travellers take proper medical precautions whether they're backpacking, just visiting, or going to see friends and family in a familiar country.

Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, said:

"Malaria is one of the most prevalent causes of death from infectious disease across the world. Although deaths from it in the UK are rare, it is a significant public health risk for UK travellers.

"Thankfully, malaria is preventable. Whatever reason people have for their trip to a country where malaria is common, I urge them to talk to their doctor before they leave to make sure they are fully protected with the right tablets and are aware of the signs and symptoms."

Ron Behrens, Consultant in Tropical and Travel Medicine at UCLH, where Cheryl Cole was treated, said:

"Travellers visiting friends and family abroad account for around 80% of malaria cases in the UK.

"This is largely because people do not take medication as they mistakenly believe they are immune to the disease having grown up in an endemic country.

"This is a myth that needs busting; they remain at risk. The message is simple: taking tablets stops the disease, they will protect people against something which, at best, will involve a course of medication to destroy parasites in the blood and involve a stay in hospital, and, at worst, can kill you."

Dr Tunji Lasoye, Consultant in the Emergency Department at King's College Hospital, said, "Sadly I have first-hand experience of the terrible consequences that not taking anti-malarial medication has on people. Many of these patients have been extremely ill and have contracted the disease after returning home to visit friends and relatives.

"Malaria is a serious disease and we must do all we can to raise awareness in the African and Asian communities of the importance of taking the proper medical precautions. Taking these tablets could save your life."

Everyone knows that cancer and heart disease regularly top the biggest killer lists globally, but few realise that malaria is killing up to a million people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization.

Last week, International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, launched a consultation to explain how British aid will be spent to help tackle malaria in developing countries, which account for 98% of the 2,300 malaria deaths every day.

Department of Health

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I cannot believe I read one comment by a nurse asking why can they not have prophylaxis on the NHS. WHY should they?  They can afford to go to these places; why should I, as a taxpayer and also as one who cannot afford these places, pay for her? Sorry, free choices!" - Hilary, Glasgow

"A travel risk assessment is a priority. If you plan to travel abroad you have to be responsible for your health, if you can afford to travel you should be able pay for any injections or malaria tablets you need. The United Kingdom has a national health service, NOT an international health service, so the NHS should not be expected to pick up the cost for people who travel abroad with no thought for their own health. I have had one patient who said, 'If I get malaria the NHS will treat me when I return, so why bother with paying for tablets?' These people are selfish, wanting every thing for free, well it's NOT possible, so face up and take some responsibilities for yourselves. No wonder this country is in the state it's in" - Colette Mudd, Warwickshire

"I go through the travel and malaria advice with my patients using the Nathnac website, going through with them and showing them the risk of various diseases they can get if not vaccinated, particularly malaria. Most take my advice but some don't. They are adults and make their decision for themselves and their children. There is not much we as practice nurses can do" - Practice Nurse, Essex

"Well, government says, 'If you can afford the holiday you can afford the anti-malarials to prevent diseases'. Patients need to have a different mindset, and take full responsibility for themselves and others, spreading malarial or any other disease intentionally is totally irresponsible. A dear friend aged just 18 years died following a holiday to Malawi, she believed she was immune as she was born there" - Cynthia Fox

"I also agree that malaria prophylaxis is of utmost importance - not all is available OTC, Malarone, doxycycline and mefloquine are available only on private prescription - the NHS is not responsible for funding people's holidays, it is the patients' choice to travel to these countries, therefore, the onus is on the traveller to fund necessary medication. They can always travel somewhere else where malaria is not present. Choices" - Helen, Wolves

"I strongly agree with this, but in most practices doctors advise patients to buy themselves from chemist, and its expensive so patients don't buy it. Is it good? It is very hard for the whole family who can't afford. Why they cannot have it on NHS prescription? This might reduce malaria cases" - Lincy Godwin, Manchester

"I had a man in going to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, tried to tell him about the danger of not taking malaria precaution, he didn't want to know 'I go every year' he said. Well that makes it OK then!!! Like I say they are adults and they make there own decisions only we have to pick up the expensive pieces" -  Nurse, Lancs

"People need to access the practice nurse or travel health nurse and not the doctor. This would be a wasted appointment as a full risk assessment needs to take place with the associated evidence-based advice and prophylaxis. This is time-consuming and requires a 30-minute appointment to be carried out effectively" - Tricia McCosker, Coventry