Africa has a malaria problem. When mosquitoes whine, Africans know what is coming. When stagnant waters sit still, and grasses blossom unchecked, Africans know that what is bred is death.
What is true for Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, is true for Nigeria.
A killer disease.
In a message to commemorate the World Malaria Day on April 25,2022, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, lamented that Africa reported more than 600,000 deaths from malaria in 2021.
According to Moeti, in spite of significant breakthroughs in malaria prevention and control, it remained a significant public health and development challenge. Stating that in 2021 about 95% of the estimated 228 million cases occurred in WHO/AFRO Region along with 602,020 reported deaths. She added that six African countries, the worst impacted by Malaria in the Region, are reported to have accounted for up to 55% of cases globally and 50% of deaths.
African Countries like Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Mozambique accounted for over half of all malaria deaths.
According to the World Malaria Report 2021, there were an estimated 241 million malaria cases and 627 000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2020. This represents about 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019 and 69000 more deaths.
In Nigeria for example, a National Malaria Elimination Programme report established that about 10 persons die of malaria every hour with a total of about 90,000 malaria-related deaths recorded in the country every year.
Nigeria has in place a National Malaria Strategic Plan 2021 – 25 which is aimed at achieving a parasitic prevalence of less than 10 per cent and reducing mortality attributable to malaria to less than 50 deaths per 1000 live births by the year 2015. For this, the country would need about N1.89 trillion naira.
On Tuesday June 16,2022President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Nigeria End Malaria Council(NEMC)and projected that were the Council to successfully implement its agenda, the country would be saved from the economic burden of malaria which sits at about 2 trillion naira.
The President charged the 16-member Council headed by the founder and president of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, that beyond improving the quality of life, health and well-being of Nigerians, the concerted strategy to tackle malaria had both public health as well as socio-economic benefits for Nigeria.
A fight for children and their mothers
Apart from the staggering cost successfully fighting malaria can save Nigeria, an unquantifiable cost could be saved in the lives of mothers and their children.
According to the Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS), the rate of under-five mortality is 132 deaths per 1,000 live births, while the infant mortality rate is 67 deaths per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality ratio is 512 deaths per 100,000 live births. Thus, for every 1,000 live births in Nigeria, about five women die during pregnancy, childbirth, or within two months of childbirth.
Malaria in pregnancy is a significant contributor to maternal and neonatal mortality. It is a major cause of anaemia in pregnant women, which contributes to maternal death at delivery due to haemorrhage, and causes stillbirths, preterm birth, and low birth weight increasing the risk of neonatal death.
According to the WHO, pregnancy reduces a woman`s immunity to malaria, making her more susceptible to infection and at a greater risk of illness, severe anaemia and death. Maternal malaria also interferes with the growth of the fetus, increasing the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight- a leading cause of child mortality.
In 2018, an estimated 11 million pregnant women were infected with malaria in areas of moderate and high disease transmission in sub- Saharan Africa. As a result, nearly 900,000 children were born with a low birthweight.
While funding remains a major barrier to completely eliminating malaria, it is critical to encourage more pregnant women and children to continue to sleep under insecticide-treated nets.
Also, the use of effective vector control insecticide treated nets or indoor residual spraying) and preventive antimalarial medicines to protect pregnant women and children from malaria remain key.
Also,robust health services that that provide expanded access to proven malaria control tools – including prompt diagnostic testing and treatment – is key to meeting the goals of the Global technical strategy for malaria 2016-2030( GTS)