No fewer than 300,000 people die of malaria in Nigeria, while more than 100 million treatments are carried out in the populous state annually.
However, the situation may soon change for the better.
The new government of President Muhammadu Buhari has set an ambitious deadline of five years for the elimination of malaria.
Health experts, who it seeks to facilitate to work toward meeting the 2020 target date, met in Abuja on October 26 for a two-day brainstorming session.
They discussed current issues on malaria, including assistance, investigations and treatments.
The experts were surprised at the volume of donor assistance the country had received over the years, yet malaria remained problematic and continued to constitute an epidemic.
The support for malaria control in Nigeria has increased dramatically in recent years. The country was the recipient of a $600 million Global Fund to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.
In August 2012, Nigeria received another $150 million from the Global Fund. It was also one of nine countries to share $225 million in October 2014 on the platform of Affordable Medicines Facility-malaria (AMFm).
Nigeria has so far received more than $180 million assistance under the World Bank Malaria Booster Programme since 2009, a programme which ended in 2013.
Abuja requested an extension of the programme to 2015.
In addition, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) launched a five-year $80 million malaria programme for Nigeria in 2008 the arrangement was put on a no-cost extension until 2015.
Donors work with Nigeria’s National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP) to ensure that the six geopolitical zones and the 36 states, plus the Abuja Federal Capital, receive support proportional to the burden of malaria they carry.
Malaria is the largest cause of disease and death in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. It strangles the healthcare system by constituting 60 per cent of all visits to hospitals.
malaria eats up an estimated $862 million every year in treatment and prevention costs, in addition to lost man-hours.
Nigeria’s former Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu describes the scourge as a monumental tragedy the President of the Malaria Society of Nigeria, Dr John Puddicombe, sees it as “the main burden of disease” in the country.
The NMEP national coordinator, Dr Nnenna Ezeigwe, says “malaria is still the foremost public health issue in Nigeria in spite of all the concerted efforts of governments and partners”.
He adds: “Malaria is next in line for elimination. We dealt with Ebola, polio and Guinea worm. The focus now is on malaria. Focus has changed from control to elimination.
“By 2020, we should get to pre-elimination stage. This is a point where prevalence should be less than 5 per cent and there will be no death from malaria.”
According to Dr Ezeigwe, virtually all the proven interventions to deal with the malaria scourge have been introduced and were actually being scaled up with the support of the ‘Roll Back Malaria Partners’.
Federal Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Linus Awute has confirmed the government’s strong commitment to the elimination of malaria in five years, using the new National Malaria Strategic Plan.
The Plan aims at providing at least 80 per cent of the target population with appropriate preventive measures, the Society for Family Health programme analyst, Mr John Ocholi, explained.
The US Agency for International Development (USAid) was working strategically with Nigeria and other donor institutions to implement the National Malaria Strategic Plan.
The plan envisages that by 2020, malaria would have been eliminated.
The session of health experts that brainstormed for two days in Abuja last month discussed the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDTs) policy, with the recommendation for installation of strategic laboratories for investigation better diagnosis and treatment.
“Malaria has been with us for a long time. There is the temptation to guess that a fever is malaria and commence treatment with the wrong medicine,” one of the participants pointed out.
“We need to have a change of attitude. We need to have a reorientation in treating fever. So these laboratories are essential.”
Mr Awute said at the session that the government was considering, as a matter of policy, that pregnant women at antenatal clinics be subjected to malaria tests.
“We want to see a drastic reduction in malaria related mortality and morbidity in the country,” he said.
Although the West has been against the use of chemicals to eliminate mosquitoes to stop malaria, Nigeria is often takes the measure as a last resort.
Nigeria may wish to emulate Cuba’s method: development of effective and safe biolarvicides that can protect the environment and eliminate malaria.
The biolarvicides are bacteria that are sprayed into breeding sites. The mosquito larvae ingest the bacteria, which then disrupts their mechanisms and kills them.
The technique has also been successfully used to control malaria in Vietnam.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Fund are, however, resolutely against this strategy of eliminating the mosquito, a position Nigerian experts don’t necessarily support.
The Cuban ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Hugo Rene Ramos Milanes, shares the passion of eradicating malaria in Nigeria, using his country’s method as model.
Cuba was currently partnering with the Rivers State government in the Niger Delta in biolavaecide project aimed at eradicating the vector mosquitoes.
The ambassador, who was in Port Harcourt for the World Malaria Day, said he was supporting the project’s expansion to the 36 states in Nigeria, believing that like Cuba, Nigeria will eradicate malaria soon.
As the Abuja meeting noted, eliminating malaria in five years would remain a mirage without the killing of mosquitoes.
It will require a strong political will on the part of the government in adopting whatever methods to eliminate mosquitoes due to the cost implications and Western opposition to the use of chemicals.
The recommendations of the experts will constitute a major challenge to the health administration as the policy for malaria eradication by 2020.
SOURCE: AFRICA REVIEW