The burden of imported malaria in Cape Town, South Africa

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South African Medical Journal

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BACKGROUND: The Western Cape Province of South Africa (SA) is not malaria endemic; however, a considerable number of patients present with malaria to our healthcare services. OBJECTIVES: To establish the frequency of patients presenting with malaria at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH), Cape Town, SA, and to describe their demographics, clinical outcomes and laboratory findings. METHODS: An observational, retrospective, descriptive study was conducted, which included all patients presenting with smear-positive malaria to GSH over a 4-year period between 1 April 2008 and 31 March 2012. RESULTS: During the study period, 134 malaria patients presented to GSH for management; 85% (n=114) were male, median age was 27 years. Of the total smear-positive tests, 96% (n=128) were Plasmodium falciparum, 3% (n=4) P. ovale, and in 1% (n=2) the species was not identified. The number of malaria patients increased markedly, from 6 cases in 2008 to 50 cases in 2012. Of the patients, 48.3% (n=57) were from Somalia, 8.5% (n=10) from SA and 29% (n=30) from other African countries. One SA patient acquired transfusion-transmitted malaria from a pooled platelet product, and the other SA patients had travelled to malaria-endemic areas. The remaining cases were from countries outside of Africa, including 13% (n=15) from Bangladesh. Almost two-thirds (62%; n=72) were admitted to hospital with a median length of stay of 3 days (range 1 - 32). Clinical outcomes were good with only one death and the remaining patients being discharged. CONCLUSION: Imported malaria is imposing a significant burden on health resources. The costs of medical care for the emergency treatment of foreign nationals needs to be recognised, and adequately budgeted for.