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The malaria scourge

April 25, 2019 is marked as ‘World Malaria Day.’ The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is Zero Malaria Starts with Me. It is…

April 25, 2019 is marked as ‘World Malaria Day.’ The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day 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.

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.

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 of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And Nigeria, the most populous Black Country in Africa, is one of the countries most affected by malaria.

Therefore, World Malaria Day Thursday, April 25, 2019, 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, 5 countries accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide: Nigeria (25%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%), India (4%) and Uganda (4%).

Children under 5 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 the United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund (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 a lot of awareness on the need to keep our environment clean can be very helpful. All stakeholders, including government, health practitioners, corporate organizations, non-governmental organizations, and so on, 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 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.

Daniel Ighakpe, Lagos

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