The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched an initiative aimed at halting the transmission of malaria in 25 countries by 2025. This is in continuation of the E-2020 initiative, launched by the organisation in 2017, through which it had supported 21 countries in their efforts to bring their malaria burden to zero by 2020. Eight of the E-2020 member countries reportedly scored zero indigenous cases of human malaria by the end of 2020. They included Algeria, Belize, Cape Verde, China, El Salvador, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Malaysia and Paraguay.
Encouraged by the success of the E-2020 programme, WHO announced that it had now identified a new group of 25 countries, including some from the previous group and some new additions, with the potential to stamp out malaria within a five-year timeline, by 2025. “These countries will receive specialised support and technical guidance as they work towards the target of zero malaria,” the agency said in a statement to mark the 2021 Malaria Day, tagged “Zero Malaria – Draw the Line Against Malaria”
Apart from Algeria, some African countries have recorded gains in reducing the scourge. Botswana, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Namibia and South Africa achieved the 2020 milestone of reducing malaria incidence and deaths by 40 per cent compared to 2015. Nigeria and other countries on the continent and elsewhere are still lagging behind in the fight against malaria, despite government efforts and support from international organisations.
According to the WHO reports, over 90 per cent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, the majority – more than 265,000 in young children. The disease kills about 400,000 people each year around the world. Africa recorded 384,000 malaria deaths in 2020. In 2019, the continent accounted for 94 per cent of both the 229 million malaria cases and 409,000 malaria deaths reported globally. Nigeria with 23 per cent global malaria burden was among six African countries that accounted for 50 per cent of all malaria cases globally in 2019. The rest included the Democratic Republic of Congo (11 per cent) United Republic of Tanzania (5 per cent), Niger (4 per cent), Mozambique (4 per cent) and Burkina Faso (4 per cent).The malaria burden is staggering for a region that has other diseases to contend with.
According to medical experts, malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Its symptoms include fever, cold, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, and vomiting. Malaria thrives in the developing world and continues to spread because of poverty, ignorance, poor health practices, poor environmental practices and poor housing.
Malaria is among the killer diseases currently ravaging Nigeria. Others are tuberculosis, measles, typhoid fever and the corona virus disease. Despite the huge resources deployed by the government and international organisations to contain the disease, it has remained endemic. Apart from the huge amount of money lost to malaria on account of hospitalisation and loss of man hours, the disease weakens the health of the people and stunts economic development. Malaria leads to much absenteeism in schools and work places. It is the major cause of maternal and child mortality in Africa.
According to the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, malaria is responsible for an average annual reduction of 1.3 per cent in Africa’s economic growth. Also, malaria-related absenteeism and productivity losses cost Nigeria, an estimated US$ 1.1 billion every year. For a health system that has been heavily weighed down by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainties of an oil-dependent economy, the malaria disease burden will likely worsen the situation.
We agree with the WHO that every malaria case is preventable, and every malaria death is unacceptable. Therefore, the federal, state and local governments must put in more efforts to eradicate the scourge. Though the government has, through the push back malaria initiative and other programmes, done much to tackle the scourge, there is still need to step up actions in malaria eradication because of its being endemic in the country.
The citizens also have a role to play in preventing and controlling the malaria menace by ensuring healthy living. This entails keeping their environments clean and ensuring that mosquitoes do not breed in them. There is need for them to clean the gutters and drain stagnant water around them. The environment should be regularly fumigated to kill malaria breeding mosquitoes. Suspected cases of malaria should be reported to health professionals, rather than resort to self-medication.
Let the government subsidise or reduce the cost of malaria drugs, especially for pregnant women and children, and substantially increase the funding for malaria eradication projects and involve those living in rural areas in such interventions. Insecticide-treated bed nets (ITN) should be extended to the people in the rural areas, especially the poor, who are more vulnerable to the disease.