Once the sun goes down, in many parts of Nigeria, one may find several people repeatedly clapping hands. This gesture is not in response to any melodious tune but a conscious effort to prevent mosquito bites.
On the April 25, Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Malaria Day. Various agencies, non-governmental organisations and health-based organisations took part in several awareness campaigns, screening and free treatment of those who were found to have malaria, all in an effort to control the disease.
World Malaria Day is an annual international observance that recognises global efforts to control malaria. It is one of the eight official global public health campaigns currently marked by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The theme for this year, “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” enjoined all to be actively involved in the control and possible eradication of the disease. The theme was selected at the most recent African Union Summit held in July 2018 and it aimed at encouraging individuals, communities, agencies and governments to make selfless contributions dedicated and geared towards eliminating malaria and reducing the burden created by the disease on individuals, families, communities and the nation at large. There have been calls for review of strategies and policies all with the aim of achieving the highest positive outcome on the matter.
The word malaria comes from the Italian word “mal” and “aria‟ which means bad air. This is because in the past, it was thought that all diseases were caused by bad or dirty air.
One striking thing about the control of malaria is that it involves affordable methods. Also for effective results, political will goes a long way in reducing the burden of the disease.
With all that has been said, the question may be asked: “Is it possible to eradicate malaria and attain zero malaria status in Nigeria?” The answer is ‘Yes,’ but it can only be achieved through sustained and collaborative efforts of individuals, communities, agencies and government. It ranges from keeping the environment clean, on the part of individuals and communities (for example, clearing stagnant water from their surroundings) to making policies that help control the disease and making funds available to support the control of the vector; early diagnosis and treatment of the disease on the part of the government.
Malaria has become a household name in Nigeria where it is popularly mentioned in terms of preventing or controlling it. The disease has been around for a long time and most cases are seen in tropical climates. It is endemic in Nigeria. It kills over a million children every year in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The danger about malaria is the sudden shift from being a simple, easy to treat disease to becoming a resistant, complicated and fatal disease. Prevention and prompt treatment remains the mainstay in controlling the harmful effects of Malaria.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne parasitic disease caused by plasmodium species (P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. knowlesi). Mosquitoes naturally infest ponds, marshes, puddles and swamps and can breed in any collection of still or stagnant water. Malaria–carrying mosquitoes typically bite between dusk and dawn, which coincide with the human sleeping pattern. Female anopheles mosquitoes transmit the parasite by biting humans. It requires a blood meal for the maturation of its eggs hence its need to suck blood.
The common symptoms of malaria include fever, chills and shivering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, fatigue, sweating, chest or abdominal pain, cough, feeling of unwell amongst others. In extreme cases, there may be confusion, convulsion, acute renal failure, coma and ultimately, result in death. People at increased risk of serious disease include infants and children, pregnant women (malaria has been associated with miscarriages, still birth, low birth weight, pre-maturity) and their unborn babies, elderly travellers to malaria endemic zones and people with diseases such HIV/AIDS. Poverty, lack of knowledge and little or no access to healthcare also contribute to malaria deaths worldwide. In children, symptoms of malaria are usually non-specific and can present with flu-like symptoms of cough and catarrh, poor feeding and fever amongst others.
Controlling malaria includes measures such as:
• Clearing stagnant water and keeping the environment clean and safe
• Using Insecticide treated nets (ITN), insecticide sprays
• Early diagnosis and treatment of established cases with appropriate medication
• Encouraging the use of Intermittent Preventive Therapy in pregnant women.
• Use of prophylactic drugs by travellers before going to malaria endemic regions
• Educating the public on malaria, to increase knowledge on prevention, identification of symptoms and need to seek early treatment before onset of complications.
Malaria imposes immense morbidity and mortality as well as socioeconomic burdens on both individuals and the nation at large. Therefore, its control and eradication ought to be everyone’s concern. Every little step counts.