Sunday, 22 May 2011

MALARIA: Nigeria: disease has remained a source of serious concern across the country

AS the global community, on the surface, appears to be intensifying efforts aimed at eradicating malaria, available statistics show that, indeed, the war against the deadly disease is not recording as much success as it should and this reality is evident in Nigeria as in most other countries where malaria continues to be a major health challenge.

Eleven years after Nigeria's National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) was officially launched, the disease has remained a source of serious concern across the country, with about 500,000 deaths recorded annually, mostly of children and pregnant women.
According to statistics released by the National Coordinator of the NMCP, Dr. Babajide Coker, Nigeria contributes a quarter of the malaria burden in Africa, and a staggering 90 per cent of her citizens are at risk of the lethal disease.
Dr. Coker who gave the figures at a recent event to commemorate this year's World Malaria Day (WMD) also revealed that the scourge still accounts for about 60 per cent of all clinic attendance and is responsible for 30 per cent of childhood deaths in the country.
WMD was first observed on April 25, 2008 "to provide stakeholders including governments at all levels with an opportunity to raise awareness and increase knowledge on control" of the disease worldwide.
Before then, 44 African leaders had, in Abuja on April 25, 2000, held the first summit on malaria, where they affirmed their commitment to roll back malaria and set interim targets for the actualization of their goals for Africa.
At the summit, April 25 every year was declared "African Malaria Day" and renamed World Malaria Day in 2008 to reflect the global dimensions of the disease.
Though Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark another WMD on April 25 this year, the fact that the disease remains a major challenge 11 years after a concerted continent-wide campaign was launched against it means that various strategies adopted to eradicate the scourge are far from achieving results.
For instance, under the National Malaria Strategic Plan, 2009-2013, malaria related morbidity and mortality was projected to have been reduced by 50 per cent last year.
Similarly, a total of 35,618,160 Long Lasting Insecticides Nets (LLINS) have been distributed in 22 states representing 56.6 per cent of the December 2010 targets.
Given the current poor performance of the NMCP in meeting set targets, it is almost certain that Nigeria will not achieve the global target of zero malaria deaths by 2015, which is also the target date for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In order to improve on the performance of the NMCP, we recommend an urgent summit of all stakeholders- federal, states and local governments, donor agencies, community leaders and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the fight against malaria.
Such an emergency summit, which should be convened by the Federal Ministry of Health in conjunction with NMCP should immediately review all targets set for the total eradication of the scourge, overhaul the machinery for the implementation of the control programme and evolve new, effective strategies for attainment of the targets already set.
We believe that the outcome of such a gathering will enable stakeholders including the World Health Organisation (WHO) to redouble their efforts towards eradication of the killer disease.
Similarly, since malaria is a disease of the tropics and can be eradicated, we suggest that the Federal Government implement its plan to strengthen indigenous pharmaceutical companies for anti-malaria medicines production.
Such financial assistance will boost local production of anti- malaria drugs that have been adjudged effective in the cure of malaria.
This, ultimately, will reduce the present large scale importation of anti-malaria drugs some of which are fakes.
As we have noted in the past, the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) must redouble its efforts and be more alive to its responsibility of checking the importation of unwholesome drugs since fake drugs have been identified as a major hindrance to the effective prosecution of the war against malaria and other killer diseases.
Also, we strongly recommend that governments and corporate bodies take keener interest in research and adequately fund relevant institutes and universities in the country so that they can intensify the search for more potent cures for malaria.
In line with the theme of this year's celebration of WMD, "Achieving progress and impact" all stakeholders including development partners, donor agencies and governments must relaunch and intensify enlightenment campaigns in all the nooks and crannies of the country, especially on how to prevent the disease.
Government should also go the extra mile to ensure that the LLINs are not only given free of charge but get to those who really need them.
Treatment for malaria should also be free, especially for children, pregnant women and the elderly, to ensure that none from this class of vulnerable people dies because they could not afford money for treatment of malaria

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