Global experts are calling on stakeholders and government at all levels to urgently close the gaps in tackling the cases and deaths from malaria.
Annually, more than half a million lives are still lost to the preventable disease despite the declines in malaria cases and deaths since 2000.
“It’s even a thing of joy that in the last few years, we have been able to reduce the number of deaths from malaria to 54 per cent in children worldwide because any death at all by malaria saddens any family. There is therefore need to improve on what we have been able to achieve and that is why we feel we should continue the malaria awareness in the grassroots,” says Dr Babajide Puddicombe, President, Malaria Society of Nigeria (MSN).
Dr Puddicombe highlighted the need to urgently address the gaps in preventive treatment for malaria during the society’s community outreach, free screening for malaria and free distribution of mosquito nets and malaria drugs at Ado-Odo, Ota, Ogun State.
The outreach was in collaboration with the Primary Health Care Department of Ado-Odo, Ota.
“With about 100 million cases of malaria per year and about 300000 deaths mainly children under 5 years, Nigeria has the highest malaria fatalities in the world. I believe in more efforts on awareness campaign and getting to the nooks and crannies of this country, we can still get the death from malaria further down by intensifying efforts on malaria programme.”
He said, the pregnant women and children under 5 are the most vulnerable group in malaria-endemic areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
“When women are pregnant, their immunity is reduced, also children under 5 don’t have enough immunity against malaria attack and that is why we clamour for them to know what is going on and advise them on what to do to avoid malaria. An adult may have malaria and it may not be fertile but when malaria attacks a pregnant woman, it can affect the unborn child.”
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that the vulnerable groups receive preventive treatment to reduce the risk of malaria infection. Preventive treatments are highly cost-effective, with the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year. Coverage with such treatments, however, remains low and needs to be significantly scaled up.
Puddicombe said, awareness programme for malaria should not be done once in a year but, “it should be a continuous exercise. We know that government cannot do it alone because malaria is not the only thing government is handling, so, credible NGOs like MSN should be co-opted into the country’s awareness programme because what we are doing today is not getting any support from anyone.”
Moving towards malaria elimination will require political commitment and funds from government at all levels.
“We must take the malaria fight to the next level. Moving towards elimination will require high level political commitment and robust financing, including substantial new investments in disease surveillance, health systems strengthening and research,” says Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “In addition, we urgently need new tools to tackle emerging drug and insecticide resistance, as well as innovative app roaches that will accelerate progress.”
Adding, the president of MSN said, “We just witnessed an election in this country, we all saw the amount of energy and commitment in terms of publicity especially by the two prominent political parties both at the Federal and State levels and the amount of money that went into that, if only we can use one tenth of what went into the preparation into the last election in terms of energy and financial resources for malaria awareness campaign, we will be able to drastically reduce the deaths from malaria.”
Increased political commitment and greater funding have averted more than 4 million deaths since 2001, and 55 of the 97 countries and territories with ongoing malaria transmission are on track to meet the current World Health Assembly target of reducing malaria incidence by 75 per cent between 2000 and 2015.
The World Malaria Day is celebrated on 25 April each year to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria control and elimination.
The theme for the 2013-2015 campaign is “Invest in the future. Defeat malaria.”