Dubai: Several cases of malaria have been reported in International City (IC) in Dubai, doctors said.
General practitioner Dr Fouziya Ayyub, who works in IC, said dozens of residents could be infected by mosquitoes thriving in dirty water bodies in the residential cluster. "The stagnant waters are mosquito-breeding grounds. People get bitten and fall sick. When I test them, it turns out to be malaria," said Dr Fouziya.
Zero cases before
"As far as I know, there were zero malaria cases here. But now I see about two or three cases per week."
She added some cases appear to be "local transmissions" rather than "imported" ones.
The UAE was declared malaria-free by the World Health Organisation in 2007, but there have been incidents of people getting infected abroad and entering the country.
The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) told XPRESS: "Like any other capital cities where malaria transmission is eradicated, we do have cases of imported malaria in the country... People can get the infections and return to UAE. This is what we call imported malaria." It added: "All cases reported to DHA in 2011 are cases of imported malaria; all the cases are expatriates..."
However, Dr Fouziya said some patients had told her they had not travelled outside the UAE "for a long time". If her suspicions are true, this would be a case of local malaria transmission, she added.
XPRESS obtained some malaria-positive medical records dated November through December from a Dubai clinic, but was unable to verify how long the patients had stayed in the UAE at a stretch. However, one Pakistani patient said he was "fine" when he travelled from his home country to the UAE on October 4.
"I was fine back home and doing well when I landed here. I only fell sick earlier this month — I was surprised to find out it was malaria," the 25-year-old said.
Though malaria does not spread from person to person, Dr Fouziya said, "I would advise people take preventive medicine against malaria and vaccinations against typhoid because of the unhygienic conditions in some places in International City and workers' camps."
Another physician, Dr Sarika Raut, said she was also aware of the cases. "It's very surprising malaria cases have been reported there recently," said Dr Raut, who practises in Jebel Ali.
Dr Fouziya said patients in IC were initially referred to hospitals because clinics didn't stock malaria medicine. "We had to order the pills and are now treating patients."
IC residents say they are under siege by mosquitoes. "We keep our windows shut and don't step out on the balcony. I tell my children to rush inside when the school bus drops them off," said an Indian mother living near plot CBD17, where a water body several metres deep has collected in a stalled construction site.
Did you know?
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people globally each year and its symptoms include high fever on alternate days, severe chills and nausea.
The UAE is free from malaria: DHA
A spokesperson from DHA (Dubai Health Authority) said, "Malaria transmission is eradicated in the UAE and the country has a WHO certificate of being malaria-free. UAE worked on eradication of malaria disease since 1979 and WHO certified UAE-free of malaria in May 2006.
"However, like any other cities where malaria transmission is eradicated, we do have cases of imported malaria in the country.
"You may appreciate that Dubai's population is multi-cultural and Dubai is a multi-ethnic society and there is considerable population movement from UAE to countries where malaria is holoendemic or hyper endemic. So the imported malaria is caused either by visiting friends and relatives back home or during summer vacations to such countries. Thus people can get infection and return to UAE. This is what we call imported malaria.
"At DHA, we have a travel clinic covering all travel-related issues in Al Mankhool Preventive Medicine Centre and Al Muhaisnah Medical Fitness Centre, where clients are prescribed adequate chemoprophylaxis and counselling on how to avoid mosquito bites and use mosquito repellent creams when visiting such countries.
"All cases reported to DHA in 2011 are cases of imported malaria, all the cases are expatriates and most are imported cases, especially from India and African countries."