Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is, however, preventable and curable.
In Nigeria, malaria has become the number one health problem as it accounts for about 30% of deaths in children under five and 25% of deaths in infants and 11% of maternal mortality.
It also accounts for over 40 per cent of the total monthly corrective healthcare costs incurred by households.
On average, members of a typical Nigerian home treat malaria at least once a month.
Although malaria is known to be life-threatening, most Nigerians have lived with it and accepted it as a norm. The risk of malaria has become too high for many based on most people’s environment that they cannot help.
For instance, a stagnant pool of water with different insects beside non-flowing drainages ushers you into a typical street in most neighbourhoods across Nigeria where the masses live and make their livelihood.
This environment presents them with little or no options than the exposure to various ailments and diseases such as malaria, over which they have no control due to their poverty level.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its World Malaria 2021 report, showed that Nigeria was top on the list for Africa, accounting for 27 per cent of malaria cases in 2020, while it was also among the six countries that accounted for 55 per cent of all cases globally.
With such a vast number of malaria cases in the country, Nigeria is prone to, among other things, a reduced level of development because, as the saying goes, Health is wealth; hence diseases and ailments are significant challenges to the nation as it impedes human development.
Does it then mean government and the people are not doing anything?
The opposite is the case, as the government is at the forefront of ensuring that the country becomes malaria-free.
However, it is impaired by some challenges, some of which are artificial and self-inflicted, which have delayed the desired result of achieving a malaria-free society.
Health experts in the country have identified governments’ lack of capacity and political will for sustainability approaches as the main obstacle to tackling the country’s malaria burden.
WHO, in its 2021 report, also identified six significant challenges hindering Nigeria from reaching a zero malaria status such as poverty, drug resistance and treatment failure, insecticide resistance, lack of sensitive field tests that can detect low levels of parasitemia, global warming and climate change as well as sustainable funds.
What is the way forward for Nigeria to attain zero malaria status?
As the famous saying goes, “Nothing good comes easy”, so a lot needs to be done on time to attain that status.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, at this year’s World Malaria Day with the National Slogan “Every effort counts”, said, “For a malaria-free Nigeria, let each of us play our parts because every effort counts.”
Beyond the rhetorics, the government needs to demonstrate more commitment to the fight against malaria by committing more funds for malaria control and tackling it aggressively as it had done with other diseases such as polio.
It must also restructure and strengthen the country’s health systems to be able to face the challenges that come with eliminating malaria.
Doing that will involve providing adequate diagnostic testing infrastructure and capacity, which comes with prompt treatment with effective medicines.
Primary health care centres should be given priority in the fight against malaria by equipping them well so that the most sensitive tests can be identified and made available in health care facilities.
Equipping the health centres must also involve providing approved and effective drugs that are most available for treatment. These drugs must also be accessible and affordable for all, while special attention must be given to children, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups.
In addition to all of these at the Primary Health Care centres, there must be an effective monitoring and evaluating system to give correct details and data of happenings as it affects the course of fighting malaria.
All these will take commitment from the federal level down to the local authorities and other relevant stakeholders, as the government alone can not do this.
True to the words that “every effort counts”, it has become necessary for stakeholders in the private sector to partner with the government to ensure that recommendations suggested by the WHO are adopted in Nigeria.
Such partnerships are needed to effectively strengthen the country’s use of the “Vector Control Method”, one of the recommendations by the WHO. The “Vector control method” are protective measures like the use of insecticide-treated materials such as the Long-Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets
and spraying of insecticide.
This method has proven to be effective in some other countries which are now malaria-free though it might come in quite expensive given the population in Nigeria.
Hence, there is the need for partnerships by all stakeholders – government, Non- governmental organisations( NGOs), local authorities, the private sector and others to raise the funds needed to reach the targeted population and have maximum effect.
Also, a lot needs to be put in place to tackle environmental issues to control mosquito breeding sites which have become the norm in every nook and crannies of the country.
To achieve this, the government needs to provide the proper infrastructure like good drainages, good roads and potable water to reduce the need for water storage.
Community-based interventions in the form of awareness of the importance of good water sanitation and good hygiene should also be encouraged as these will help control malaria.
At the same time, health workers and environmental workers should also be equipped to monitor effectively.
As emphasised, attaining a malaria-free nation in Nigeria is achievable. Still, it will take the collective efforts of the government, the private sector, and individuals to work hand in hand to ensure the battle is won.