Taming the malaria scourge

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Posted on November 29, 2018

It is worrisome that in spite of the coordinated global efforts to curtail its spread, malaria has remained endemic in some parts of the world. Nigeria is one of the countries that harbor the disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently disclosed that after about two decades of decline, malaria is on the rise again in Nigeria and 12 other countries. In its 2018 World Malaria Report, the global health agency confirmed global increase in malaria cases, rising from 217 million in 2016 to 219 million in 2017.

Other countries affected by the disease include Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda, Niger, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Dr. Alistair Robb, Senior Adviser, WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, said the world health body was concerned over the resurgence.

In Nigeria, malaria is a debilitating ailment that affects the wellbeing of Nigerians and the socio-economic health of the nation. With approximately 51 million cases of malaria and 207,000 deaths reported annually, Nigeria topped the list of most endemic countries in the world. That translates to 30 per cent of the total malaria burden in Africa. Besides, 97 percent of Nigeria’s total population is believed to be at risk of malaria infection every day.

Malaria accounts for 60 percent of outpatient visits to hospitals in the country, just as it leads to approximately 11per cent maternal mortality and 30 percent child mortality. Most vulnerable are children less than five years old.

The statistics, without doubt, are dire and scary. Malaria not only pulverises the citizens, it also pauperises the country. It affects Nigeria’s economic productivity, as an estimated N132 billion annually goes into prevention and treatment of malaria.

In 1897, Sir Ronald Ross, a British medical doctor discovered the malaria parasite in the gastrointestinal tract of a mosquito and proved that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. The discovery won him the Nobel Prize for Physiology (Medicine) in 1902. Further discoveries have proved that malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum, and the mosquitoes Anopheles gambiae, Anopheles funestus, Anopheles arabiensis, and Anopheles moucheti are the major vectors that transmit the disease at all times of the year.

It is incredible that over a century after that discovery, and despite major global accomplishments in science and technology, the world still lacks effective methods to contain the vectors that transmit malaria. Although major successes have been recorded in many countries, the world still loses millions of people to malaria annually, especially in Africa and Asia.

The 2018 World Malaria Report revealed that some countries, notably India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Rwanda had a significant decline in the number of reported cases in 2017. The report also noted that the successes recorded in the four countries were due to political commitment, reaching marginalized populations and efficiently using resources, such as bed nets and drugs.

Unfortunately, in many parts of Africa, many people do not have access to malaria treatment. In the high-burden African countries, the people most in need are marginalised and vulnerable communities who are unable to access treatment and prevention resources. In 2017, an estimated half of the people at risk of the disease in Africa did not sleep under a treated net.

To check the resurgence of the disease, government needs to muster the political will to wage a war against its spread. Both the leaders and the led must employ more effective prevention methods to reduce the prevalence of the disease.

Sadly, the appalling state of the environment encourages the breeding of mosquitoes. In most Nigerian cities and towns, the canals, drains, and gutters are clogged with household wastes.

Government and civil society organisations must enlighten the people on the importance of public hygiene. Free insecticide-treated nets must be distributed to the citizens, especially the vulnerable ones. We call on the government to train more parasitologists, entomologists and other specialists who will assist in the war against the disease.

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