‘Nigeria can eliminate malaria with more investment in medical research’
Why the huge interest in malaria by Fidson?
Malaria has always been a serious public health concern in Nigeria. Estimates show us that everybody remains at risk even today in Nigeria because it is an endemic problem. It is a vector-borne disease and the vector is everywhere with us. So it remains a huge public health challenge for us. As a responsible indigenous pharmaceutical company, we, therefore, have to contribute our quota in combating malaria. As I mentioned earlier, we all have a role to play. We just have to be at the vanguard of that fight as a pharmaceutical company.
Our primary responsibility is to ensure the provision and distribution of high-quality antimalarial drugs at affordable prices. We are aware that there is a direct link between poverty and incidence of malaria. Therefore, the cost of therapy must be affordable for patients to reduce the economic burden of malaria on them. This is the major role that we play.
We also ensure increased advocacy on behalf of the low-income earners. We are always talking about malaria prevention and control as well as an increase in awareness of the disease. To that extent, we partner with various stakeholders in the healthcare sector in this respect. We have sales representatives all over the country who engage in talks with pregnant women, school children, and the general public. Malaria is a preventable disease and we, therefore need to stop losing lives to this disease. People need to be aware of how to reduce the chances of a vector bite. That alone is a major step in combating malaria.
How does Fidson go about addressing the issue of malaria resistance and the burden on the socio-economic situation of the country?
At Fidson, we are engaged in the manufacturing and marketing of potent antimalarial agents to treat malaria. Some of our product offerings include Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) tablets and injectable Artemisinin derivatives. The frequency of dosage is very convenient for patients and this boosts compliance and like I said earlier, compliance can reduce the incidence of resistance.
Also, advocacy campaigns and awareness cannot be underestimated in addressing this issue. We are therefore continuously engaging doctors, pharmacists, nurses, various other healthcare professionals and the general public on the need for proper diagnosis, treatment, administration and compliance to qualitative medications such as Fidson’s brands of antimalarial.
Another major issue in the fight against malaria is the faking of products. Have they attempted faking your products and how are you addressing the issue of faking of products?
We acknowledge the serious threat that unscrupulous people pose by attempting to counterfeit various pharmaceutical products, not only antimalarial. We have complied with regulatory guidelines that require that all antimalarial in the Nigerian market should have scratch codes through which customers can verify the authenticity of the product they are buying and the scratch code have been very helpful in preventing counterfeiting of our brands. All our brands of antimalarial drugs have this mobile Authentication Codes.
The theme of the World Malaria Day is ‘End Malaria for Good.’ Are there plans by Fidson to join this campaign?
Yes. We always give health talks and create awareness for malaria on various media channels as well as social media platforms. In our organisation, there have been some stimulating activities in this regard for the past one-week leading to the World Malaria Day. We shall also be distributing free antimalarial drugs to NGOs and Primary Health Centres across the country where the most vulnerable and poor people in the society can access them. In addition to this, we also have a radio campaign to further drive home the key message of malaria prevention and control to Nigerians.
In which area is Fidson investing to support the fight against malaria in line with the theme of World Malaria Day 2017?
For us as a company, we know that malaria is preventable and can be eliminated. Can we increase awareness on how to prevent malaria in the first place by ensuring proper sanitation of our environment and avoidance of stagnant water bodies? Can we champion advocacy on the use of insecticide-treated nets especially by infants and pregnant women as well as the application of indoor residual spraying of insecticides? Can we champion campaigns for proper diagnosis and treatment of malaria with efficacious medications? I believe all the above are within our grasp as a socially responsible corporate organisation. The most important thing, however, is for the government to promote enabling policies and guidelines, exhibit high and sustained political will and determination, and also promote the enabling environment for pharmaceutical companies and healthcare institutions to place life-saving malaria medications within the reach of everyone living in this country.
What is the economic cost of malaria?
Malaria overburdens the already-weakened health system and exerts a severe social and economic burden on the nation, reducing the gross domestic product (GDP) by 40 per cent annually. Nigerians are said to spend about N480 billion annually in out-of-pocket treatments and prevention costs on malaria.
How feasible is it for us to eradicate malaria, especially given the fact that Nigeria is in the tropical zone?
I think it is very feasible. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has certified that a number of countries where malaria used to be endemic have been able to eliminate the disease. Countries like United Arab Emirate (UAE), Oman, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc. have been able to successfully eliminate malaria. I, therefore, believe that it is possible if there is a concerted effort by all stakeholders concerned. Nigerian government and private individuals should also invest in medical research in our search for new antimalarial molecules.
Only the female anopheles mosquito can transmit malaria. After the mosquito bites, it usually takes 10 days to four weeks to display symptoms of malaria. Eradicating breeding sites of mosquitoes will go a long way in combating the disease.
Usually, the mosquito bites between 9pm and 5am. Making a mosquito net over the bed is a very effective tool in malaria prevention. We can also ensure that we wear clothes that would cover most parts of our body, avoid dark clothing, dark areas and if possible use insect repellants during this period.
There are over 200 species of the plasmodium parasite, the most commonly found in our environment and also the deadliest is the Plasmodium falciparum. Proper diagnosis and treatment are a veritable means of terminating the parasite.
Vector control is the main way to prevent and reduce malaria transmission. Two forms of vector control are effective in a wide range of circumstances; these include the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS). Improved sanitation and avoidance of stagnant water bodies are also veritable means of control.
ITNs have been the cornerstone of malaria prevention efforts, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and in Nigeria. Over the last five years, the use of treated nets in the region has increased significantly.
Indoor Residual Spraying of insecticides (IRS) is used by national malaria programmes in targeted areas. In 2015, 106 million people were protected by IRS, globally, including 49 million people in Africa.
Use of rapid diagnostic kits to ensure fast and proper diagnosis, prompt treatment, observing WHO guidelines (especially in children under 5 years) and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) for malaria during pregnancy are other ways by which the disease can be combated.If the above procedures are properly and adequately employed, I believe Nigeria will witness zero deaths due to malaria in the not too distant future.