More malaria education needed for UK-based immigrants

Immigrants and migrant travellers returning home from visiting friends and relatives abroad top the list of travellers most at risk from bringing malaria strains into the UK.

Research carried out by anti-malarial specialists TravelPharm, which was based on official government figures, shows that 40 per cent of all new cases of malaria in the UK can be attributed to returning immigrants alone.

According to TravelPharm, the high rate of malaria among people returning home from visiting friends and relatives may arise for numerous reasons. It may be that many believe they do not require anti-malarial treatments when travelling to their destination. What’s more, as these travellers tend to be away from the UK for longer periods of time than regular tourists and visit ‘local areas’ rather than ‘tourist areas’ they become more at risk to contracting the virus.

Meanwhile, recently arrived immigrants may have a lack of trust around medical systems such as the NHS, or could find that there are additional challenges, for example, language barriers in the UK that could prevent them from getting correct information.

The most current data available shows that there were 1,270 cases of malaria treated in the UK in 2016. Over half of all cases were from first and second-generation migrants in the UK, of which 81 per cent were visiting their family in the country of origin. Others included foreign visitors who fell ill while in the UK, new entrants and a small percentage of international students studying in the UK.

The bulk of new cases were from visits to Africa, notably Western Africa as well as a notable number from Southern Asia. The British regions that were particularly affected were London, in which over half of the cases were diagnosed.

Research by TravelPharm shows that different ethnic groups of immigrants returning to their country of origin to visit friends and relatives may also be returning to the UK with different malarial strains. Plasmodium vivax, which is mainly found in Asia, was treated in hospitals with large Asian communities such as Birmingham Heartlands, Liverpool, and Bradford Royal Infirmary.

The majority of cases treating the more dangerous strain of, Plasmodium falciparum were found in London and imported from Africa.

TravelPharm believes more needs to be done to provide first and second-generation migrants with more malaria education.

Article published 11th June 2018