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Seeking an End to Malaria Scourge

02 May 2013

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To mark the World Malaria Day, the United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF), Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders reiterated commitment to the fight against malaria through public enlightenment, Steve Dada and Patrick Ugeh writes

Malaria is still a major problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, where pregnant mothers and children are in the vulnerable group. Globally, UNICEF says no fewer than 600,000 people are killed by malaria every year, which is the reason why all hands must be on deck to ensure that deaths from the disease are reduced to the barest minimum. As part of efforts to contain the increasing scourge of malaria on the populace, the World Health Organization (WHO) set April 25th of every year apart as a day of public awareness.

UNICEF’s Director of Programmes, Mr. Nicholas Alipui noted that malaria still kills 660,000 people every year, most of whom are children from Africa.

He said the universal coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets is key towards making gains against malaria, which remains one of the largest killers of children in the world.

He explained that with partners, UNICEF champions and supports governments to undertake the free distribution of insecticide-treated nets, especially long-lasting insecticidal nets.

“When universal coverage – one net for every two people – is reached this simple, effective barrier can reduce child mortality by up to 20 per cent,” he said.

Until recently, limited competition among producers meant that they were too expensive to scale up. However, by 2010, bulk buying, joint procurement, better financing and extending manufacturing capacity into Africa meant that this number had increased to 145 million.

A sustained, driven focus on high coverage with this very effective anti-malaria intervention contributed greatly to the 1.1 million lives that have been saved and a one-third decline in African malaria mortality rates that have been recorded since 2000.

“It is unacceptable that every day more than 1,500 children still die from a preventable and curable disease.

“We must distribute insecticide-treated nets to all who need them, provide timely testing for children and appropriate medicine when they are infected,” Alipui said.

According to him, a three-day treatment will cure malaria infections, especially if an episode is diagnosed early enough and treated appropriately in particular with artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs).

“But many children, especially in Africa, still die from malaria as they do not sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets and are unable to access life-saving treatment within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms,” he stated.

The global agency supports national efforts to train and provide community health workers with simple tools such as malaria rapid diagnostic tests so that children receive medicine quickly when needed. However, in Africa the proportion of treated children who receive a first-line treatment such as an ACT is less than 30 percent in most countries.

Alipui added that with governments, donors and other partners, UNICEF also looks for innovative ways to reach the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children in pursuit of universal coverage. For example, in addition to free net distributions during mass campaigns in the poorest and most remote areas, nets are also provided to children during routine immunizations and to pregnant women during ante-natal check-ups. UNICEF is also stepping up its efforts on integrated community case management, which brings a package of life-saving interventions closer to children, families and homes,”

It is estimated that enough nets were delivered over the last decade to cover 80 per cent of requirements in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many nets however are reaching the end of their useful life and must be replaced. Countries that had already reduced their malaria burdens by up to 50 per cent can quickly detect increased cases and deaths due to malaria if old, worn-out nets are not replaced.

From 2000 to 2010, the proportion of children sleeping under an insecticide-treated net in sub-Saharan Africa grew from less than 5 per cent to over a third. But global procurement of long-lasting lasting insecticidal nets has dropped by 52 per cent against an annual target requirement of 150 million. Such a slowdown risks gravely undermining the gains to date.

“We have made considerable progress in this fight, but cannot take our eyes off the goal of reducing malaria cases and deaths to zero. We must make sure that countries have the funding they need for malaria control and use it to protect their children and expectant mothers,” Mr. Alipui added.

Fighting malaria not only saves the lives of children, but also yields many other health and economic benefits for affected communities. For example, reducing malaria improves the health of pregnant mothers and therefore their newborn babies, reduces school and work absenteeism. Eliminating malaria reduces the burden on over-stretched health centres. It is estimated there is a 40-fold return for every US$1 spent controlling malaria in Africa.

There have been impressive gains and successes built on strong partnerships and the generous contributions of many donors – but these gains can be quickly lost if sustained focus and investments are not maintained.

The health minister Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu has said that the government has distributed over 52 million insecticide-treated nets to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), adding that other methods of malaria control such as indoor residual spraying and larval source management should be supported.

The minister said that the federal ministry of health is facing a major challenge with the supply chain management of commodities for the three diseases and called for the inclusion of operational costs in the procurement of the commodities.

He said with over 97 per cent of Nigerians at risk of malaria, it remains a major public health problem in Nigeria.

Prof. Chukwu said should the decisions reached by African Ministers of Health be fully implemented, malaria could be a thing of the past in the country by next year.

In speech to mark the World Malaria Day, Chukwu disclosed that to help Nigeria end malaria, the World Health Organisation had approved the use of insecticide, DDT, which he said  was used in  America to stop the malaria disease.

He however said to achieve the malaria-free environment, citizens must play their part by keeping their surroundings clear of weeds and drains free of stagnant water.

A not for profit organisation, Family Care Association has called for continued funding for the eradication of Malaria in the country in order that the objectives behind the Roll Back Malaria initiatives and the Nigerian Malaria Control and Prevention Programme is achieved. The objectives of the twin programme are in line with the Millennium Development Goals 2015 which aim to reduce death via Malaria to near-zero.

The National Programme Director of Family Care Association (FCA) Joshua Kempeneer made the statement in Lagos during the flag off of the Lagos leg of the activities to mark the 2013 edition of the World Malaria Day with free screening and free treatment of malaria cases using Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) as part of activities to mark the World Malaria Day.

A Seminar for community agents and health workers on the modern treatment and management of malaria as well as free distribution of long lasting insecticidal mosquito net targeted at families, nursing mothers and children under the ages of 5.

The World Malaria Day was approved by the World Health Assembly during its 60th session to encourage and recognise the worldwide effort directed at combating malaria as well as to encourage countries in the affected regions to share and learn from each others.

Tags: Health, Featured, Malaria

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