TIME TO ERADICATE MALARIA
The new malaria vaccine is welcome. But more should also be done to test the efficacy of traditional medicinal products on the disease
The provisional approval for the R21/Matrix malaria vaccine developed by scientists at Oxford University is a step in the right direction. As stakeholders mark the World Malaria Day 2023 under the theme “Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement”, any measure that would help in eradicating Malaria has both public health and socio-economic benefits for the country. “The brief on the approval of the R21 Malaria vaccine has been communicated to the minister of health and national primary health care development agency for appropriate actions toward immunisation in the respective population,” according to the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
However, as much as we commend the recommendation of this new vaccine, it is not a silver bullet. 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 and health budgets at both the federal and subnational levels may not be able to accommodate the amount of money needed for the new vaccines. Yet, to the extent that defeating malaria is critical to minimising poverty and improving maternal and child health, Nigeria cannot afford to lag in dealing with the scourge.
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 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.
With the environmental conditions and associated ailments, which have all combined to make malaria a scourge for both the young and old, especially the millions of pregnant women and children under the age of five, the statistics of deaths from the disease remain startling high. For a preventable disease, the number of people who die annually from Malaria in our country is frightening. Nigeria, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), 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 report 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.
Given 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. That should be the new resolve as we mark the 2023 World Malaria Day.