Increase in zoonotic malaria infections a new threat in Malaysia – Khairy


KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia is facing a new serious threat in malaria infection, which is an increase in zoonotic malaria infections, says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

He said zoonotic malaria infections in the country had increased drastically from 376 cases in 2008 to 3,575 in 2021 and emerged as the leading cause of malaria deaths in Malaysia since 2017.

“Malaysia also faces a new and greater threat of increased zoonotic malaria infections caused by the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite. It is transmitted between animals (apes/macaques) and humans through mosquito vectors.

“In contrast to human malaria, the spread of zoonotic malaria infection frequently occurs outdoors,” he said in a statement in conjunction with the national-level Malaria Day celebrations Monday.

Khairy said the increase in cases was due to aggressive land clearing for farming, which increased human-animal exposure. Animals are the natural hosts for zoonotic malaria.

“Currently, existing malaria treatments are effective for zoonotic malaria. The challenge for the Ministry of Health (MOH) in tackling this infection is the lack of effective vector control methods to curb transmission outside the home.

“Those with fever symptoms and have a history of entering an area at risk or have just returned from malaria-endemic countries, should seek immediate treatment at the health facilities. Workers in the plantation and forestry sectors need to undergo regular malaria screening,” he added.

Meanwhile, Khairy stated that Malaysia achieved a record of zero indigenous human malaria cases for four consecutive years from 2018 to 2021.

He attributed the success to the ministry’s strategies and innovations, including the use of Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT), residual insecticide spraying (IRS), and the use of medicated mosquito nets.         

However, Khairy said Malaysia was still exposed to the risk of human malaria infection among newly arrived foreign workers, as the country reported 111 imported human malaria cases last year.

“To address the threat, the ministry has since begun screenings for malaria at selected entry points and mapping areas, as well as implementing preventive interventions, including vector control activities.

“In addition, the MOH has identified risky sectors such as the plantations and forestry to focus on the implementation of malaria surveillance activities,” he said.

The theme of the World Malaria Day celebration this year is ‘Harness Innovation to Reduce the Malaria Disease Burden and Save Lives’. The occasion is celebrated each year on April 25 in recognition of the global efforts in controlling malaria.