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South east London residents should protect themselves from the threat of malaria before they visit family and friends in countries affected by the tropical disease this summer. Public Health England (PHE) are calling for greater awareness of malaria among communities in south east London as the area has the highest rates of malaria in the country.

New data for 2014 shows 291 South East London residents notified as having imported malaria. Where the borough of residence was known, Southwark had the highest number of cases (96), followed by Greenwich (59), Lambeth (38), Lewisham (70), Bexley (18), and Bromley (10). 1, 586 malaria infections were reported in the UK nationally while three people sadly died.

In south east London most cases of imported malaria are in people of Black African ethnicity. Between 2000 and 2012, 92% were in Black Africans who had visited friends and family overseas. In 2013, the proportion was 94% and the data from 2014 indicate that 91% of cases in SE London were in people of Black African ethnicity. Most travellers of African origin are aware of the risk of contracting malaria; however, the data from this year, and previous years, indicates that the use of chemoprophylaxis is low and almost everyone who acquired the infection was not taking any medication.

Dr Rachel Heathcock, PHE London’s local director of health protection for south east London, said:

“Malaria is a preventable disease, so it’s concerning to see almost 300 people with the disease in south east London last year.

“It is important for people to be aware of the risks when visiting family or friends in malaria affected regions. This is a potentially life-threatening disease but can be prevented by taking anti-malarial medication. The risk can also be significantly reduced by avoiding insect bites through wearing long sleeved tops and trousers between sunset and sunrise; sleeping under a mosquito net; and applying an insect repellent which contains DEET.

‘’We know that people of black African ethnicity experience the greatest burden of malaria and so its particularly important to raise awareness in these communities. Often people living in the UK who were born in a country affected by malaria may incorrectly believe that they are ‘immune’ to the disease. The reality is that any resistance they may have once had decreases rapidly as soon as people come to live in the UK. Other common misconceptions that stop people from taking the necessary precautions are that malaria drugs are too expensive or that they are only going away for a short time. PHE advise that people should not take any risks with their health and should speak to their doctor about medication to prevent malaria, no matter how short the trip.’’