By James F. Entwistle
IN the past 15 years, Nigeria has made historic progress in turning the tide against malaria. Since 2011, an aggressive program to fight malaria in Nigeria reduced mortality rates among children under five by 18 percent, and malaria among this same group declined by a remarkable 15 percent.
Although this is impressive, worldwide progress on malaria control during this same period resulted in infection rates dropping globally by 60 percent.
As we commemorate World Malaria Day on April 25, we celebrate this success. The United States, as the world’s leading donor in global health, remains strongly committed to working with Nigeria and all our partners to intensify the efforts to free people from the tremendous burden of malaria.
Despite Nigeria’s tremendous progress, we must remain committed to our fight against malaria. More than 430,000 people around the world still die each year from this preventable and treatable illness. Ninety percent of all malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority are children under five, as malaria kills one of our children every two minutes. Malaria sickens hundreds of millions of people over and over again. More than half of all school absences in Africa are due to malaria. The disease costs the continent billions of dollars each year in health costs and lost productivity. In Nigeria, the National Malaria Elimination Program estimates malaria costs the Nigerian economy 132 billion naira ($660 million) annually.
I am proud that the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) continues to play a key role in the global fight against malaria. PMI, which supports 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, provides Nigerian communities and families with a mix of tools to fight malaria, including long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor insecticide spraying campaigns, the latest drug therapies to treat infections, prevention treatment of malaria in pregnancy, and community education campaigns. Treated mosquito nets are a highly effective means of preventing infection and reducing malaria transmission.
In Nigeria, PMI works with national partners such as the Ministry of Health and the National Malaria Elimination Program. PMI also works with international partners such as the UK Department for International Development, the World Health Organization, and the Global Fund to reach and maintain universal coverage with long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets for all individuals living in malaria endemic areas. This year alone, PMI will provide 8.7 million nets to families in Nigeria.
The United States also supports the Nigerian people by training medical personnel and community health workers to care for people with malaria. This past year alone, PMI supported training for nearly 7,000 health workers around the world in malaria case management. PMI also provides the test kits and medicines to help those patients who come to them. In just the past year in Nigeria, PMI procured 19 million anti-malarial treatments and more than 6 million rapid diagnostic tests kits.
The most exciting news about malaria is that it can be eradicated. To make this happen, we must recognize that we do not need to accept malaria as being a normal part of life. If we sleep inside a treated net every night, if we seek treatment from a qualified health worker within 24 hours of the onset of a fever, we can drive down the presence of the malaria parasite in our environment and ultimately eliminate it.
Despite our impressive gains, we still have much work to do. We must improve the protection of expecting mothers and their newborns from malaria. During pregnancy, malaria can cause particularly serious, life-threatening risks for both the mother and her baby. Common problems include maternal anemia, miscarriage, prematurity, stillbirth, and low birthweight in newborns.
We must increase access to health services, especially for the poor. Community health workers must be able to provide reliable testing and treatment for malaria and other childhood illnesses. We have shown in a number of countries that such services can be scaled up quickly and affordably, and that they make a difference.
Ending malaria is not just good social policy, it is good business. Leading economists have identified the fight against malaria as one of the “best buys” in global development, estimating that a 50 percent reduction in global malaria incidence could produce over 7,000 naira ($36) in economic benefits for every 200 naira ($1) invested. Malaria eradication could deliver more than four hundred trillion naira ($2 trillion) in economic benefits and, more importantly, save an estimated 11 million lives.
Success during the next three to five years will be crucial to attain the vision of this year’s World Malaria Day theme, “End Malaria for Good.” Ridding the world of this burden will have a long-term transformative impact across the globe, saving millions of lives and generating trillions in additional economic output.
I thank my colleagues and counterparts in Nigeria, who fight malaria tirelessly in communities every day. If we all continue to pull together, we can rid the world of this deadly scourge.
• James F. Entwistle is United States Ambassador to Nigeria.