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Scabies spreads up North, prisons

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Victor Mhango

By Patience Lunda & Feston Malekezo:

All three administrative regions of the country have now been hit by scabies, the latest being the Northern Region.

While Northern Region health officials yesterday told The Daily Times that they were still consolidating figures, in Mzimba, 1,423 primary school learners have contracted the skin infection.

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These are learners from 70 primary schools.

According to Mzimba North District Education Manager Ernest Chirwa, the learners are attending classes as they wait for the Ministry of Health to act on the matter as they are using home remedies as a cure for infection.

Chirwa said, if left unattended to, scabies might spread further to other learners.

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“We have indeed recorded these cases in about 70 schools and we have already alerted officials from the Ministry of Health but we have not yet suspended classes. We are also allowing the affected learners to be attending classes because the matter is not very serious. Again, we would be infringing on their rights if we did so,” he said.

At the time of the interview, Chirwa, in the company of other education officials, were inspecting schools such as Engucwini and Emanyaleni to establish the extent of the problem among learners.

Statistics indicate that Karonga District Hospital has, so far, recorded 3,906 cases of skin infections, including scabies, from July to September this year.

The contagious scabies has also hit Malawi Prison Service (MPS) as 12 cases have been recorded at its Chichiri Prison in Blantyre.

In an interview yesterday, MPS spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba said the 12 are currently in an isolation cell in a bid to restrict the further spread of the disease.

Shaba also said all suspects from police were being screened before being taken to prison cells.

“We are also ensuring that we have potable water and soap,” he said.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe said the ministry had enough medicines to treat those affected and their contacts.

Chikumbe added that the ministry was conducting awareness campaigns on the importance of hygiene.

“The World Health Organisation assisted us with medicine to treat the disease and we have enough medicines but we want people to continue following precautionary measures because the disease involves personal hygiene,” he said.

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance Executive Director Victor Mhango said what matters at present is strict adherence to hygiene practices and the provision of potable water.

“The best possible means is enforcing hygiene because we know that scabies manifests itself in unhygienic places and prisons are one such place. The prisons are very congested and it could be the worst breeding ground if we are not careful.

“So, we have been calling on the government to work on improving prison conditions, which are currently inhuman,” he said.

Malawi’s prisons are currently grappling with congestion, staggering at over 13,700 against the holding capacity of about 7,000.

According to health officials, the country started recording cases of scabies around June this year but the cases started increasing in October.

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