Though gains have been made, there is still much to do to stem the disease

With Nigeria among the eleven countries that carry approximately 70% of the global burden of malaria, it is important to take seriously the Yaounde Declaration signed last month by Ministers of Health of the continent. The pledge is to provide stronger leadership and increased domestic funding for malaria control programmes, ensure further investment in data technology, apply the latest technical guidance in malaria control and elimination, and enhance malaria control efforts at the national and sub-national levels. In signing the declaration, they expressed their “unwavering commitment to the accelerated reduction of malaria mortality” and “to hold each other and our countries accountable for the commitments outlined in this declaration.”

As people across the world today mark the 2024 Malaria Day with the theme, “Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world”, it is another reminder to the health authorities in Nigeria that this is still one battle that needs to be won, even when gains have been made in recent years. Many citizens would gladly wish that the problem of malaria in Nigeria can be solved at the mere mounting of an insecticide-treated mosquito net. But with the environmental conditions and associated ailments, which have all combined to make malaria a scourge for both the young and old, and especially the millions of pregnant women and young children under the age of five years, the statistics of death from the disease remain startling.

In recent years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), progress in reducing malaria has ground to a standstill. “Not only does malaria continue to directly endanger health and cost lives, but it also perpetuates a vicious cycle of inequity,” WHO reports. “People living in the most vulnerable situations including pregnant women, infants, children under five years of age, refugees, migrants, internally displaced people, and Indigenous Peoples continue to be disproportionately impacted.” More concerning, according to WHO, is that the “African Region shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease – accounting, in 2022, for 94% and 95% of malaria case and deaths.”

However, the situation is not all bleak. The World Bank has revealed that over the past decade, eleven African countries have reduced confirmed malaria cases by more than 50 %. The bank has also reported steady progress in Nigeria. The National Malaria Control Programme is moving to increase access to malaria prevention, treatment services and community mobilisation so as to reduce the burden of the disease. However, combating Malaria requires multifaceted actions and partnerships involving public and private, international and civil society sectors.

Funding for malaria control globally is also inadequate. In 2022, US$ 4.1 billion – just over half of the needed budget – was available for malaria response. Globally the number of cases in 2022 was significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic, rising to 249 million from 233 million in 2019. In the same period, the African region saw an increase in cases from 218 million to 233 million. The region continues to shoulder the heaviest malaria burden, representing 94% of global malaria cases and 95% of global deaths, an estimated 580,000 deaths in 2022.

Last October, the federal government promised that the WHO-recommended R21/Matrix-M vaccine for the prevention of malaria in children would be available in Nigeria by June. Will it get to those who need it most? To the extent that defeating malaria is critical to ending poverty and improving maternal and child health, Nigeria cannot afford to lag. As the world therefore marks the 2024 Malaria day, the hope is that the Nigerian health authorities will adopt the best possible strategy that will help in the efforts to eventual eradicate the scourge from our country.

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