Nigerian health authorities could do more to stem the scourge

For a preventable disease, the number of people who die annually from Malaria in our country is frightening. Nigeria, according to World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest report, accounted for 31 per cent of Global Malaria deaths in 2021, with the ranking of the most afflicted. “Malaria is transmitted all over Nigeria; 76 per cent of the population live in high transmission areas, while 24 per cent live in low transmission areas,” the World Malaria report released last month revealed. “The transmission season can last all year round in the south and about three months or less in the northern part of the country.”  

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease. Symptoms typically include fever, fatigue, vomiting and headaches. In severe cases, it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, or death, as it is the case in Nigeria. Experts believe the number of Malaria death could be reduced drastically if Nigerians stopped embracing the disease as part of their lifestyle. Preventive measures include keeping clean environment, removing stagnant water, consistent use of insecticide treated nets and proper diagnosis before treatment. 

There have also been several programmes and initiatives to combat the disease. In 2000, the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) slogan was launched with fanfare. But the challenge persists. 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 disease over the past few decades. To the extent that defeating malaria is critical to ending poverty and improving maternal and child health, Nigeria cannot afford to lag in dealing with the scourge.  

 It is imperative therefore that Nigeria optimises a mix of interventions to avert Malaria cases and deaths. The Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) should set targets for verifiable indicators across the three levels of government response towards reducing the malaria burden, using the latest World Malaria Report. There is need for collaboration among relevant institutions for the seamless integration of traditional medicine proven to be safe and effective into the health system. Measures should include development of regulation and guidelines for the control, training of technical personnel working in research, and the conservation of medicinal plants, especially those facing extinction due to over-use, bush burning, drought and urban development. Herbalists should also be encouraged to register their clinically proven and efficacious standardised herbal preparations with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).  

Since it is estimated that about 75 per cent of the populace still prefer to solve their health problems through traditional healers, a home-grown solution for the prevention and cure of malaria is important. Nigerian health authorities can do a lot more along this line to eradicate malaria. The ministry should set targets for the traditional medicine department it created in 2018 to find a cure for malaria. Also, the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) should undertake scientific research to generate evidence for the safety, efficacy and quality of the traditional medicinal products and practices, particularly those on malaria. The NIPRD can also work with states that have established traditional medicine boards because what is needed now is stepping up action in “research and development” to modernise and standardise them. 

On prevention, Nigeria should key into the models in Ethiopia and Western Kenya, where mosquito repellent plants around residential areas are being used to control Malaria. 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 the disease requires multifaceted actions and partnerships involving public and private, international, and civil society sectors. 

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