…..advocates new response approach

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Ali Pate, has described as “unfortunate” the increasing annual deaths from malaria.

The Minister was also unhappy that despite huge financial and logistic investments over the years, malaria could not be eliminated in Nigeria, rather more deaths are being recorded annually as a result of malaria.

Speaking at the roundtable discussion on Rethinking Malaria Elimination in Nigeria, on Friday, in Abuja, the Minister insisted that Nigeria (African countries) and the global malaria community must reinvent approaches to address the constraints that prevents efficient delivery of existing effective key malaria control strategies, and forthcoming innovations and tools.

He said: “it’s exactly 24 years ago, (April 25, 2000) during the African Summit on Roll Back Malaria (RBM) in Abuja, that over 44 Heads of Government and Development Partners signed the “Abuja Declaration on RBM” outlining several objectives and a plan of action to combat malaria in Africa.

“But when we interrogate the objectives of the Declaration, we could candidly assess how much progress or otherwise we have made. The RBM Initiative has achieved remarkable progress even though we are yet to triumph over malaria. We have witnessed increased funding for malaria control efforts in Africa, from domestic and international sources, but huge gaps still exist.

“Undoubtedly, tools for the control of the disease have evolved both in quantity and quality over the years, but commitment by countries towards the elimination of the disease could not be sustained as budgets for healthcare across countries on the continent dwindled over time, and only a few countries could achieve the Abuja targets.

“Several strategies and interventions have been deployed and scaled up in the country towards the elimination of malaria. Some of these include the introduction of Artemisinin-Based Combination treatments as treatment, the Affordable Medicine Facility for Malaria (AMFm) to make antimalarial medicines available and affordable, training of community-oriented resource persons on recognizing and treating malaria, etc.

“Over 140 million have also been distributed since 2010 through campaigns and routine distribution to households. One of the latest interventions is the Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC), which protects children below the age of five years from malaria attacks, and this has been scaled up from the initial nine states in the Sahelian region at onset to cover 23 states across areas with seasonal rainfall in the country.

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“Sadly, with all these efforts, the country has not seen the much-desired progress. Morbidity and mortality in absolute numbers are increasing, and these are fueled by several factors from inadequate funding to increasing insecticide resistance, to disruptions to essential malaria services.”

Minister of State for Health, Dr. Tunji Alausa, in his submissions, disclosed that about 60 per cent of all hospital attendance in Nigeria is for malaria, adding that the disease contributes about 25 – 30 per cent to childhood mortality.
“There is hardly any aspect of our daily lives that is not affected by malaria, which has a consequential effect on our productivity. The disease has indeed remained a foremost public health challenge.

“Nigeria has witnessed some reduction in the prevalence of malaria since the introduction of some interventions such as the use of long-lasting insecticidal nets, the use of Artemisinin-based Combination Treatments for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria, as well as the introduction of chemo-preventive therapies for pregnant women and children below the age of 5 years.

“It is, however, disheartening that despite all these efforts, malaria remains a considerable burden in the country, affecting all age groups as well as unborn babies. We are not unaware that malaria is a moving target.

“As a people, we are determined to put in place an enabling environment and structures for our development partners in service delivery, and any other support that may be required to help combat the menace of this disease that has lingered for so long.”

Daju Kachollom, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, stressed the need to prioritize prevention, strengthen health systems, and ensure access to effective diagnosis and treatment for all.

“It’s indeed not a complement that Nigeria bears a third of the global burden of malaria, with the country accounting for 27 per cent of global malaria cases and 31 per cent of global deaths based on the 2023 World Malaria Report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“We need to rethink our approach to malaria control and elimination, challenge our assumptions, innovate our strategies, and collaborate more effectively,” she suggested.

Several other Development Partners renewed their commitment to the efforts of the Federal Government to tackle the challenges, and possibly eradicate malaria as soon as they can.