Link between global warming and the killer mosquito cannot be ignored

The festive season is upon us.

The festive season is upon us.

As we prepare to go and relax at many of the exotic places in our country, let us bear in mind a warning by Tourism and Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

Climate change could see malaria spreading to regions like Gauteng and quadruple the number of South Africans at high risk.

Speaking at a media briefing at Kirstenbosch, Cape Town, on the release of a climate change report by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Van Schalkwyk said that by 2020, the increased number of people at risk from malaria could cost the country between 0,1 percent and 0,2 percent of the gross domestic product.

Because of the higher temperatures, mosquitoes that carry malaria would be likely to spread to Gauteng by 2050.

Until recently, the issue of climate change had been the realm of "only a few mad scientists".

"It is a mainstream issue now. Dramatic climate changes will take place in the next 10 to 15 years," he said.

I am raising this issue because South Africans are generally lackadaisical when it comes to malaria.

There have been many cases where South Africans have died from malaria simply because the symptoms they displayed were thought to be those of ordinary influenza.

Because we believe there isn't a high incidence of malaria in South Africa its symptoms - high fever and sweating - are only linked to the disease when it is too late.

Malaria does occur in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and northeastern KwaZulu-Natal. It is also seasonal in South Africa, with the highest risk during the wet summer months.

Visiting these areas during the festive season means people should take malaria tablets.

Malaria kills more than a million people yearly and 90percent of these deaths are in tropical Africa.

There is a need to start a serious campaign to educate South Africans about global warming and its affect, including the fact that we could find malaria in areas where it doesn't usually occur.

Such a campaign could be led by Van Schalkwyk's department, together with the Department of Health, as well as members of civil society.

This would involve drawing on all the resources we have, including Yvonne Chaka Chaka who is Unicef's goodwill ambassador on malaria.

Chaka Chaka got involved after one of her back-up singers died from malaria.

"I am saddened that millions continue to die from a disease that is totally preventable," says Chaka Chaka whenever she is asked about her involvement in the fight against the disease.

"I decided to get involved when a member of my band died of cerebral malaria after a tour.

"I am even more horrified that so many children are victims," she said.

Here is a voice that South Africa can use to inform its public about this deadly and preventable disease.