During public health crisis like the one we currently face with COVID-19, it is easy to forget what a huge threat malaria remains for all of us, especially the poorest and most vulnerable like our children and pregnant women. This is the reason we must not allow the giant strides made in reducing the burden of malaria in our community and nation at large to slide, even in the face of this pandemic”, says Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the national ambassador for the elimination of malaria in Nigeria.
The business mogul further said, “I want to assure e Nigerians and the people in the African region that as a stakeholder in the private sector, I am committed to mobilizing efforts and resources, both within the private sector as well as from other sectors to help eliminate malaria and address emerging epidemics like the current COVID-19 which has turned to be a pandemic.”
With COVID-19 spread rapidly around the globe, and world health partnerships focus attention on how to tackle the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) restates the need to ensure that life saving and essential services such as malaria, are sustained and maintained.
On April 25 2020, Nigeria joined the world to commemorate World Malaria Day, focusing on malaria, and its devastating impact on families, communities and development. The theme for this year, “Zero Malaria starts with me” voices out the country’s commitment to the achievement of a malaria-free Nigeria while the Nigerian slogan is “Your fever could be Malaria; get tested”, tells of the earnest desire to have all fevers tested in the country particularly in this period of COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking about the progress, Minister of Health, Federal Republic of Nigeria Dr Osagie Ehanire stated that “though fever testing amongst children under 5 has increased consistently from 5% in 2010 to 11% in 2013, to 13% in 2015 and 14% in 2018, it is still very low when compared with the second objective of the Malaria Strategic plan which is to test all care-seeking persons with suspected malaria using RDT or microscopy.”
He also called for a greater private sector investment in malaria elimination to achieve the vision of a malaria-free Nigeria. To buttress the call, the minister said, “I must inform you that malaria is still a public health challenge. According to the World Malaria Report, Nigeria still accounts for 25% of the global malaria burden and 19% of global malaria deaths. It is estimated that Nigeria accounts for 81,640 annual malaria deaths – about 9 deaths per hour. This situation is worsened by very low levels of investment in malaria elimination at both the sub-national levels and the private sector.”
Nigeria recognizes the threat posed to implementation and uptake of other diseases by the COVID-19 outbreak and the potential for COVID-19 outbreak to cause disruption or slowdown of Malaria activities.
Currently, the National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), in collaboration with WHO and other partners, is working towards ensuring that key interventions such as distribution of Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs), Intermittent preventive therapy in pregnancy, malaria diagnosis and treatment are not halted during the pandemic. There is also concern that due to similarities in symptoms of malaria and COVID-19, there may be low health seeking behavior which will impact negatively on malaria.
To commemorate this year’s WMD, the WHO Officer in Charge (OiC), Dr Fiona Braka stated that “Specifically in Nigeria, WHO is collaborating with NMEP to review the situation, engage states on modalities on program continuation and support states to identify innovative ways of delivering community level services especially LLINs and physical malaria chemoprophylaxis.
“The facility basic services for malaria diagnosis and treatment are ongoing at Primary Health Care level but are challenged by low health-seeking behavior and fear of stigma. It is our hope that with the required financing, strong coordination, dedicated partners and engaged communities, we can achieve a Malaria-free Nigeria and Malaria-free Africa.”
WHO is committed to providing technical assistance to the NMEP towards optimal coordination, capacity building, provision of guidance and program design, Quality assurance, support to surveillance systems and improving use of data for decision making, advocacy, resource mobilization, planning and reviews.