CURBING THE MALARIA SCOURGE IN NIGERIA

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All the major stakeholders must do more to tackle the disease

In the course of marking the World Malaria Day last April, the then United States Ambassador, Mr. James Entwistle, said an estimated 100 million malaria cases and about 300,000 deaths each year make Nigeria the country with the highest number of malaria casualties worldwide. According to the Nigerian National Malaria Strategic Plan 2014-2020, malaria is responsible for 60 per cent of outpatient visits to health facilities, 30 per cent of childhood deaths, 25 per cent of deaths in children under one year and 11 per cent of maternal deaths. Entwistle attributed the high rate of death by malaria to widespread fake and substandard medicines.

To the extent that defeating malaria is critical to ending poverty and improving maternal and child health, Nigeria cannot afford to lag behind in dealing with the scourge.

As we have stated in the past, many citizens would gladly wish that the problem of malaria in Nigeria can be solved at the mere mounting of insecticide-treated mosquito nets. But with the environmental conditions and associated ailments, which have all combined to make malaria a scourge for both the young and old, the statistics of deaths from the disease remain startling high.

What makes the situation particularly worrisome is that there is a significant slowdown in global funding of anti-malaria campaigns which may roll back impressive gains made against the mosquito-borne disease over the last decade. In its World Malaria Report 2012, for instance, WHO noted that rapid expansion in global funding for malaria prevention and control between 2004 and 2009 levelled off between 2010 and 2012. Yet it was revealed that malaria struck an estimated 219 million people across the world in 2010, killing about 660,000, mostly children under five years of age.

Not too long ago, the United Nations’ Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria said that more than 90 per cent of the world’s malaria deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that approximately $3.6 billion additional funding was required for anti-malaria programmes within region until the end of 2015. The funds that were garnered for combating the disease within the period in question were not anyway near that figure.

It is indeed instructive that the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) recently reported that no fewer than 51 million Nigerians tested positive to the malaria parasite in 2015, while a WHO survey revealed that the highest number of such cases occurred in the North West and North Central zones of the country. “Unless our government funds research by creating enabling environment, putting the right infrastructure in place and human capacity to do research, we cannot make progress,” said the NIMR Deputy Director of Research, Dr. Sam Awolola.

In identifying the challenge to ending malaria in our country, Awolola painted the picture of a country unserious at dealing with a problem that claims the lives of many of our citizens on a daily basis. “Nigeria has a vaccine development laboratory but for many years, no money has been made available to run it. The American government has put close to $20 billion in developing genetically modified mosquitoes in the last 20 years, and up till now they have not been successful, but with us here, within one or two years we want results. Research is a long term venture, but result will definitely come at the end,” he said.

Against the background of the revelation by the World Bank that over the past decade, 11 African countries have reduced malaria cases by more than 50 per cent, the Nigerian authorities must understand that combating malaria requires multifaceted actions and partnerships involving public and private, international and civil society sectors.