There is still much to do to rout the malaria scourge

People across the world recently commemorated World Malaria Day with the theme, “End Malaria for Good”. It was yet another reminder to the health authorities in Nigeria that though much has been achieved, a lot more needed to be done to eliminate the malaria scourge.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 663 million cases were averted in sub-Saharan Africa since 2001. But the continent cannot still rest on its laurels. “WHO recommended tools have made a measurable difference in the global malaria fight. But we need a much bigger push for prevention, especially in Africa, which bears the greatest burden of malaria,” declared the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan. Indeed, Prof. Isaac Adewole, Minister of Health, said the country was far from realising its dream of “malaria –free- Nigeria.” Even though the country has reduced the prevalence rate from 42 per cent in 2010 to 27 per cent in 2015, malaria is still a major public health concern. He said though the current Malaria Strategic Plan was focused, “but it is coming at a time when the resources for malaria control are dwindling,” since there were “limited resources for effective programme coordination, monitoring and evaluation.” The Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria painted the prevailing grave situation when it said our country accounted for one third of global malaria deaths at close to 150,000 yearly.

Malaria, a disease transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes, is perhaps the leading cause of death in Nigeria, particularly among children under the age of five and pregnant women. According to records, malaria is responsible for about 60 per cent outpatient visits to hospitals and 30 per cent childhood deaths. The National Malaria Elimination Programme put the cost estimate of malaria to the Nigeria economy at a staggering N132 billion annually.

What makes the situation particularly worrisome is that there is a significant slowdown in global funding of anti-malaria campaigns. 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 statistics 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.

But there is hope for a better tomorrow. We are heartened by the efforts to develop the world’s first malaria vaccine. The WHO said ahead of this year’s commemoration that babies and children in the high-risk areas of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi would be injected with a vaccine named “Mosquirix” as part of real-life trials. The vaccine was developed to protect children from the malaria scourge in Africa.

But for now, combating malaria requires multifaceted actions and partnerships involving public and private, international and civil society sectors.
The federal government has shown some commitment to tackling the disease by allocating more resources to malaria control programme in the 2017 appropriation bill. To the extent that defeating malaria is critical to ending poverty and improving maternal and child health, Nigeria cannot afford to do less. Unfortunately, there is still much more to be done.

That is why we appeal to international and local donors to invest more in the fight against the deadly but preventable disease. We must ensure that the five principles adopted by the WHO member states in 2015 – Global Technical Strategy and Targets for Malaria 2016-2030 – are adhered to and pursued with enthusiasm. These are acceleration of efforts towards elimination; country ownership and leadership, with the involvement and participation of communities; improved surveillance, monitoring and evaluation; equity in access to health services; and innovation in tools and implementation approaches.