Paul Obi writes on efforts by stakeholders in tackling malaria scourge in the country

For decades, malaria scourge has remained one of the greatest challenges confronting health experts in the country. Substantially, solutions ranging from long lasting insecticide treated nets, clean environment, to other scientific measures, appear to be at the forefront in mitigating the disease. The malaria disease is more spread around rural communities where the level of hygiene and public awareness on the preventive measures are low.

The Support to National Malaria Programme (SUNMAP), an initiative with the aim of expanding the scope of malaria intervention programmes, seems to be strategic in addressing the existing gaps particularly across rural areas. SUNMAP in conjunction with the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), are involved in various community projects targeted at arresting the ugly incidents of the disease.

Recently, a symposium was organised in Abuja to appraise the challenges so far, as well as create a new road map that will rigorously checkmate the spread of the disease. According to officials, though there are concrete steps that are already yielding positive outcomes, the need to stay focus and be accountable remain crucial.

Understanding the current gaps in the fight against malaria is also critical in eliminating the pandemic.

According to SUNMAP, these gaps are legions and have some chilling impacts on how malaria scourge could be tackled.

Executive Director, Malaria Consortium, Charles Nelson, stated that SUNMAP, was to strategically align with the overall national performance. “In the past eight years (2008-2016), UK DFID has invested over 89 million pounds to support the malaria programme,” he said.

According to him, SUNMAP is being supported by the UK government under DFID, and has projects across 10 states of the federation as focal points to effectively combat malaria.

In appraising its performance, SUNMAP explained that about “7.4 million long lasting insecticidal nets were distributed simultaneously. By 2013, the net campaign had successfully increased ownership from seven per cent to 49 per cent. At a grassroots level, over 23,000 local health workers received training that was tailored to the needs of each region.”

The programme has also initiated, “a solid malaria control infrastructure, a viable business model for the commercial sector and has successfully brought all partners together, moving towards one powerful vision for optimum performance. There is also the resolve by the programme to build synergy across rural communities in tracking the various malaria projects around the country.”

Director of Health Planning, Research and Statistics, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Ngozi Azodo, applauded the efforts of SUNMAP and its contribution to the fight against malaria in the country.

National Coordinator, NMEP, Dr. Nnenna Ezeigwe, speaking on the challenges facing the fight against malaria, said low intake of scientific proven interventions by most Nigerians remain the major factor militating against the progress in the control of malaria in Nigeria. Ezeigwe noted that the purpose of the programme was to reach the general population, specifically, the poorest and most vulnerable with evidence-based interventions that would help reduce mosquito related diseases and the malaria burden.

She decried the manner with which Nigerians were reluctant in adopting the strategies and intervention, which according to her, had greatly downplayed the progress in malaria control. She further called on Nigerians to always make sure they sleep on treated insecticidal nets every night to avoid mosquito bite. “Low uptake of interventions is one of our problems that are militating fast progress in the fight against malaria.

“Currently, in some states, we have embarked on interpersonal communication strategies in the grassroots where we get communication experts to interact with people within the communities to let them understand the need to take the interventions that have been proven to be working. Individuals should embark on environmental management. Individuals should keep their environment clean, and clear all bodies of water in the general environment. They should observe general hygiene and always sleep under the net every night,” Ezeigwe stressed.

Country Director of Malaria Consortium, Dr. Kolawole Maxwell, disclosed that by the end of the project, through SUNMAP alone, over four million insecticidal nets were procured and distributed in public facilities and an estimated 2.2 million nets were sold through the commercial sector. “In terms of anti malaria drugs, 5.6 million doses of sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine for prevention of malaria in pregnancy and 1.46 sp/amodiaquine distributed for seasonal malaria chemoprevention were distributed by project end. “An estimated 2.7 million doses of artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) and 2.7 million malaria rapid diagnostic tests were procured and distributed and SunMap supported the sales of over five million ACTs through the commercial sector,” Maxwell said.

Also, Commissioner for Health, Ogun State, Dr. Babatunde Ipaye, highlighted the importance of deploying other strategies to curtail malaria scourge in the country. Ipaye harped on the involvement of rural communities in the implementation of the national strategy to eliminate the disease through effective monitoring.

According to him, the programme was currently being implemented in Lagos, Ogun, Enugu, Niger, Jigawa, Yobe, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano and Anambra states. The performance within the 10 states will also facilitate the extension of the programme to all states of the federation.

Beyond this intervention, stakeholders believe that government need to be to proactive in its resolve to eliminate malaria. They maintained that the best way to go about this is to adhere strictly to funding commitment, policy implementation, tracking and monitoring.