April 25, 2019 is marked as the ‘World Malaria Day.’ The theme for this year’s event is Zero Malaria Starts with Me. It is a grassroots campaign that, among other things, aims to empower communities to take ownership of malaria prevention and care.
What is malaria? Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Its symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms may sometimes recur every 48 to 72 hours, depending on the type of parasite involved and how long the person has had the disease.
Malaria is one of the major health issues affecting many countries around the world. In 2017, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And Nigeria, the most populous Black country, is one of the countries most affected.
Therefore, this year’s World Malaria Day reminds us of the need to protect ourselves against mosquito bites by using insecticide treated mosquito nets, wear clothes that cover most parts of the body, and use insect repellent on exposed skin.
According to a recent World Malaria Report, released in November 2018, there were 219 million cases of malaria in 2017, up from 217 million cases in 2016. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 435,000 in 2017, a similar number to the previous year.
In 2017, five countries accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide: Nigeria (25%); the Democratic Republic of Congo (11%); Mozambique (5%); India (4%); and Uganda (4%).
Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2017, they accounted for 61% (266,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
Other statistics have shown that each year in Nigeria, an average of 300,000 children are killed by malaria. The disease is similarly responsible for 11 per cent of all maternal deaths.
Data from UNICEF further indicates that each month, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of child-bearing age, making it the second largest contributor to under-five and maternal mortality rates in the world.
What is disturbing is that about 75 per cent of these deaths are linked to highly-preventable causes, such as basic healthcare, hygiene, homelessness and sanitation practices. Most of these deaths were also fuelled by poverty and a lack of awareness in the general populace.
In view of the foregoing, creating awareness on the need to keep our environment clean can be very helpful. All stakeholders, including government, health practitioners, corporate organisations, and NGOs, can get involved in creating such awareness on malaria prevention and control.
Another method that can help in malaria control is surveillance. This entails tracking of the disease and programmatic responses, and taking action based on the data received.
Countries with a high burden of malaria such as Nigeria require effective surveillance at all points on the path to malaria elimination. Therefore, stronger malaria surveillance systems are urgently needed to enable a timely and effective malaria response in endemic regions, to prevent outbreaks and resurgences, to track progress, and to hold governments and the global malaria community accountable.
Although a lot of progress has been made in efforts to control the malaria scourge, there still remain some serious issues that threaten the progress that has been made thus far. What are some of these issues? One of them is the emerging resistance to insecticides among Anopheles mosquitoes.
According to the latest World Malaria Report, 68 countries reported mosquito resistance to at least one of the five commonly-used insecticide classes in the period 2010-2017. Among these countries, 57 reported resistance to two or more insecticide classes.
There is therefore an urgent need for new and improved tools in the global response to malaria. The WHO also underscores the critical need for all countries with ongoing malaria transmission to develop and apply effective insecticide resistance management strategies.
Yet another serious issue undermining malaria control efforts is the issue of antimalarial drug resistance. Resistance to antimalarial medicines is a recurring problem. Protecting the efficacy of antimalarial medicines is critical to malaria control and elimination. Regular monitoring of drug efficacy is needed to inform treatment policies in malaria-endemic countries such as Nigeria. It also helps to ensure early detection of, and response to, drug resistance.
Government can support prevention of malaria by ensuring there is good environmental sanitation to prevent breeding of mosquitoes that transmit malaria. It is also important to provide preventive tablets and mosquito nets to pregnant women, under-five children and their mothers, to prevent the disease. Government must ensure that testing kits are readily available at all health facilities, so that people can get tested before treatment to prevent resistance to the current drugs for treatment.
What steps can individuals and families take to protect themselves against malaria? It is good to note that malaria is both preventable and curable. A lot of lives can be saved by simply observing basic hygiene standards. It is important that people keep their environment clean and clear drainage to avoid stagnant water where mosquitoes live.
- Daniel Ighakpe, FESTAC Town, Lagos
0817 479 5742Copyright PUNCH.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: the[email protected]