Everyone has a role in eliminating malaria
Sir: This marks my second consecutive year as head of the World Malaria Day Committee on behalf of Mr. Okechukwu Akpa, the PMGMAN Chairman. So far, some progress has been made. For instance, new NMIS data suggest a significant decline in malaria prevalence for important groups, such as children under-five. However, to reach the ultimate goal which is to eliminate malaria in Nigeria, much more needs to be done, and everyone has a role to play.
The latest WHO estimates indicate that there were 212 million cases of malaria in 2015 and half a million of these cases were fatal. For now, malaria continues to be one of the most intractable diseases in our region and we continue to carry the highest share of the global disease burden. In 2015, nine out of 10 malaria cases occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, nine out of 10 people who died of the disease were from this part of the world.
The most worrying statistics, however, relate to the populations that are most at risk of malaria morbidity and mortality. Studies indicate that population groups who are at considerably higher risk of contracting malaria and developing severe disease include pregnant women and children under-five. Further evidence of their vulnerability is indicated by the fact that more than 70 per cent of all malaria deaths occur in these groups. In fact, malaria remains a major killer of children under five years old, taking the life of a child every two minutes.
There is, however, hope that with the right strategy and commensurate effort, malaria can be eliminated in our setting, and eradicated globally. In recent years, seven countries have been certified by the WHO Director-General as having eliminated malaria. They include Morocco. What this means is that it is possible to completely eliminate malaria in Nigeria.
To achieve this, government needs to prioritise healthcare as well as ensure that its malaria elimination strategies are effective, efficient and sustainable. For instance, engaging in the procurement of made-in-Nigeria medicines and commodities. Everyone in healthcare delivery has his or her own specific but equally important role to play. The pharmacist, the doctor, the nurse, the laboratory technician and the community health worker all have synergistic roles that dovetail into the overarching strategy for National Malaria elimination. Teachers and schools also have important roles, for instance ensuring that the correct information on prevention and control is disseminated. Communities need to be involved in developing contextual yet effective environmental strategies for vector control in their localities.
Parents need to ensure that they and their families confirm suspected cases of malaria through the relevant tests, before treatment is administered. Even children need to remind their parents to safely tuck them into their Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) when they are ready for bed.
The theme this year to underpin the World Malaria Day is “End Malaria for good: What is your role.’’ This all-encompassing approach represents the most comprehensive and robust strategy so far. This approach can therefore ensure a widespread and robust engagement of all citizens and relevant stakeholders. This will in turn sound the death knell for malaria in Nigeria.