Widely Read Magazine in Nigeria

Malaria and Child Survival in Nigeria, by Uche Anunne

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Health economists estimate that annually billions of dollars are spent in the prevention and treatment of malaria globally. A greater chunk of this spending takes place in developing countries.

The World Health Organistion (WHO) explains that “Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, adding that it is, however,  preventable and curable.”

According to 2020 World Malaria Report, Nigeria is home to the highest number of global malaria cases, accounting for 27 percent of the total number of malaria infections as at 2019.

According to the report, Nigeria also accounted for 23 per cent of malaria deaths within the year under review, with the number of cases increasing by 3.5 per cent between 2016 and 2019.

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A further demographic breakdown shows that the prevalence rate varies from one region of the country to another, with 16 percent in the southeast and south-south to 34 percent in the northwest.

In a publication, Prof. Olatunji Kolawole of the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Ilorin, said Nigerians spend over N300 billion annually on malaria treatments.

This figure, which comprises government expenditures and household malaria-related medical bills excludes unquantifiable losses in man hours and people stay away from work due to malaria.

However, no matter how huge the financial expenditure on malaria, pales into insignificance compared with the fatalities it causes in malaria-endemic countries such as Nigeria.

While adults have developed mechanisms, including regular treatment to deal with malaria, it has continued to decimate children, killing them in their thousands, according to reports.

According to research published by Malaria Journal, under-five malaria in Nigeria is a leading cause of global child mortality, accounting for 95,000 annual child deaths.

The journal blames lack of safety nets for the treatment of malaria among infants for the astronomical figure.

It says that: “high out-of-pocket medical expenditure contributes to under-five malaria mortality by discouraging care-seeking and use of effective anti-malarial in the poorest households“.

The World Health Organisation said it is worried by the rate infant mortality arising from malaria and has called for more collaboration to eliminate the disease from around the world.

“Children under five are one of the most vulnerable groups affected by the disease, accounting for 67 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide,” says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in a statement to mark 2022 World Malaria Day

In an earlier report, WHO said a child dies every minute from malaria in Africa where it is estimated that 9 out of 10 malaria deaths occur.

The statistics is not very different from data collation published by UNICEF on the devastating impact of malaria on children. While calling for joint action, UNCEF has many children who have continued to die as a result of malaria which it said is preventable.

The regular presence many pregnant women and nursing mothers at health centres and hospitals across the country waiting for treatment from malaria is further indicator to the endemic nature of the problem posed by malaria.

“Every 75 seconds, a child under five dies of malaria. Many of these deaths are preventable and treatable.

“ In 2019, there were 229 million malaria cases globally that led to 558,000 deaths in total. Of these deaths, 74 per cent (416,000) were children under five years of age. This translates into a daily toll of nearly 750 children under age five”, says the UN agency.

Mrs Folasade Oguntade, Mararaba, Nasarawa State-based business woman has to spend to ensure that her children are not part of the statistics of children malaria victims.

“The last time I treated my son for malaria, I spent N7,000 on drugs for him alone. That’s just one of my three children.

“You can imagine how much I’d spend when I decide to treat all my children against malaria. My children don’t fall sick that often and I’m grateful for that. But when they do, I have to spend a lot of money,” she said.

Governments have responded to the challenge by making malaria testing and treatment part of the antenatal care.

The current National Malaria Treatment Guideline and Policy in Nigeria recommends intermittent Preventive Treatment (IPT) using Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) and encourages pregnant women to sleep under Insecticide treated bed nets.

Experts say sleeping inside insecticide treated bed nets and clean environment can help in addressing the health and socio-economic challenges posed by malaria in Nigeria, particularly with regards to child mortality.

The global science community has engaged in researches to find a vaccine for malaria, making it of the diseases on queue to join vaccine-preventable diseases such wild polio virus and measles.

In 2019, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi were used for the test run of the malaria vaccine, known as RTS, S.

Although the final report on the vaccine is not out, it is believed to hold a lot of prospects in the fight against malaria and global efforts to save children from the disease.

The environment plays a role in the manner in which mosquitos breed and Olusegun Ademowo of College of Medicine, University of Ibadan contends that only if this is properly addressed efforts to mitigate the impact of malaria will not yield expected results.

“Efforts should be geared towards drastic reduction of contact between humans and mosquitoes. Surveillance is a very important component of malaria elimination.

“Environmental management aims to control mosquitoes by removing their breeding sites and larvae. This can be done through clearing bushes around the house and other buildings,” he said.

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