Stakeholders under the RBM Partnership to Ending Malaria will be gathered in Paris, the French capital, on 25 April to mark the 2019 World Malaria Day, just as there will be activities in Nigeria and other countries of the world to mark the day. However, when the dust settles on the celebration, the grim realities of Nigeria’s battle with malaria, which is still endemic and killing thousands annually, will continue to stare us in the face.
It is indeed quite bewildering that despite years of malaria eradication campaigns in the country, the nation still records an estimated 100 million malaria cases – with about 300,000 deaths – annually. These figures from the Nigeria Malaria Fact Sheet and the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that malaria, a preventable and treatable condition, is still the number one killer disease in Nigeria.
The devastating effect of this killer-disease becomes even more disheartening when juxtaposed with the fact that many other countries with fewer resources have successfully eliminated malaria, while many others are making giant strides towards eliminating the disease.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s efforts to reduce malaria deaths and eliminate the condition have been consistently hampered by a myriad of problems, ranging from poor environmental hygiene – which provides conducive atmosphere for mosquitoes carrying the malarial parasite to breed, proliferation of fake and ineffective antimalarials in the country and, perhaps most importantly, poor funding of malaria eradication initiatives.
While there has been some progress in the past years, especially with reports showing that the prevalence rate of malaria declined from 42 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2015, deaths from malaria have continued to increase and Nigeria still ranks as the country with the highest malaria deaths, according to WHO. It is equally mortifying that Nigeria still accounts for 25 percent of malaria cases globally.
The task of ending malaria therefore requires more pragmatic and decisive steps, knowing full well that defeating the disease will significantly reduce the number of deaths recorded in Nigeria yearly. This is even more important considering that the highest percentage of Nigerians dying from malaria are children under the age of five. This, again, explains why Nigeria still ranks very high on the ignoble list of nations with high infant and child mortality.
The WHO has clearly stated that after more than a decade of steady advances in fighting malaria, progress has levelled off. This is a true reflection of the Nigerian situation and there is therefore an urgent need to get the malaria eradication drive back on track.
It is heartwarming to note that the Department for International Development (DFID) has pledged to invest 50 billion pounds, which equals 23,376 billion naira, to boost elimination of malaria in six states in Nigeria. The states, which include Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Lagos and Yobe, will benefit from the fund under the National Malaria Programme-phase (SunMaP 2) running from December 2018 to September 2024.
While this initiative must be commended and supported, it must be emphasised that eradicating malaria will require much more than handouts from foreign partners; the Nigerian government and indeed all Nigerians must own and drive the process that will rid this nation of the endemic disease.
As the theme of the 2019 World Malaria Day rightly says, “Zero Malaria Starts with Me”. All Nigerians must make it a personal commitment to fight and to see to ending malaria. This is not only by holding government accountable to the eradication programmes but by ensuring that more efforts are devoted to curbing this condition through improved environmental sanitation to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
This must be a personal task for all Nigerians. Other preventive measures, such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, as well as ensuring that people who have malaria, especially children, are promptly and properly treated, are also of maximum importance. The time to start is now.