While battling and prioritizing the containment of coronavirus (COVID-19), shifting efforts away from other widespread diseases like malaria could equally increase death rate in Africa. Note that malaria is one of the most widespread diseases in the region, and severe cases of malaria can become life threatening within just 48 hours.
Each year, over 400,000 people die from malaria globally. Sadly, Africans account for majority of these deaths, with children and pregnant women being the most affected group. Every two minutes, a child under the age of five dies from malaria according to UNICEF.
From the 2019 World Malaria Report, there were 228 million malaria cases and 405,000 malaria-related deaths in 2018. Children below five years accounted for more than half of these deaths. But the big concern here is that Africa recorded 93% of these malaria cases and 94% of the deaths globally. The report also shows that 85% of malaria deaths in 2018 occurred in 19 African countries with Nigeria accounting for 24%, followed by DR Congo (11%) and Tanzania (5%) among others. Also, about 11 million pregnancies in Africa were exposed to malaria infection resulting in the delivery of 872,000 low birth-weight children.
While malaria was successfully eradicated in developed countries and some developing countries with the help of World Health Organization (WHO)'s Global Malaria Eradication Program (GMEP) in 1955, the disease remain a serious crises for many African countries. Efforts at eradicating malaria in other parts of the world have weakened since the suspension of the program in 1969.
But, there has been gradual progress: Comparing the 2010 malaria-related deaths (533,000) in Africa with that of 2018 (380,000), a notable reduction is evident. Similarly, in Nigeria, it declined from 153,000 to 95,000 deaths. Malaria-related deaths could still be reduced or eradicated through WHO’s core recommended measures:
High vector control through the use of insecticides and insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying. But in 2018, for instance, only 40% of Africans lived in households with adequate ITNs.
Regular preventive treatment: WHO recommends that intermittent preventive treatment, for instance, should be given to all pregnant women at each ante-natal care visit starting in the 2nd trimester. So far, only 36 African countries (out of 54) have adopted this policy.
Diagnostic testing: Diagnosing patients rather than presuming treatments can help reduce the unnecessary use of anti-malarial drugs leading to increased resistance of the malaria parasite to existing malaria drugs.
Eliminating malaria boils down to improving infrastructure, including removing or draining mosquito breeding sites e.g. swamps; improving housing by installing screens on windows and doors; paving roads; and spraying potential breeding sites and homes with insecticides.
In conclusion, while priority should be given to the global COVID-19 health crises, we must not totally divert attention from the drive towards a malaria-free Africa.
Article Credit: Ndianabasi Ime Tom