As the world commemorates this year’s World Malaria Day (WMD) tomorrow, April 25, a call has been made to all stakeholders not to divert funds set aside for activities such as prevention, diagnosis, treatment and control of malaria into other activities since this would have serious implications for the elimination of malaria or even lead to a resurgence of malaria cases, especially in the malaria-endemic countries in Africa.
In 2018 alone, 405,000 people were said to have died from malaria, with more than 90 per cent of cases and deaths concentrated in Africa.
Stakeholders are also being urged to step up action across all endemic countries, particularly in countries hardest hit by malaria and embrace fully the “High burden to high impact” approach, spearheaded by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, which provides a response that can help ensure future success in malaria control and eventual elimination of the disease.
These calls are contained in a statement issued in Accra by the African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN), a Pan-African media advocacy group of journalists and scientists working together to rid the world of malaria, ahead of the celebration of the day.
April 25 is the WMD and it is a global event to create awareness on the control and elimination of malaria. The day also serves as a time to take stock of the gains made so far on malaria control and the gaps remaining to fill to save the lives of many vulnerable populations, especially children from a preventable and treatable disease.
The commemoration of the 2020 World Malaria Day is for the second year being celebrated under the theme: “Zero Malaria Starts With Me”.
According to Dr. Charity Binka, Executive Secretary of AMMREN, the celebration of the day this year “is unique, as for the first time, it will be devoid of the usual fanfare, while people remain indoors and online meetings take center stage.
She noted that the world is currently facing a very challenging time, coping with the emergence of a new pandemic, COVID-19 and the disease has brought in its wake a strain on national budgets and health systems including upheavals on the entire socio-economic lives of people and nations across the globe.”
She is however urging all stakeholders not to abandon the fight against malaria, adding that “not only are huge resources being channeled into the fight against the coronavirus disease but health workers are working under severe stress, health systems and medical supplies are overstretched, job losses are on the rise and businesses are shutting down due to the pandemic.”
“Worse of all, resources that should be going into handling other preventable diseases such as malaria are most likely being diverted to deal with the current pandemic.”
According to AMMREN the WHO has expressed similar concerns in a statement released in March this year and had urged countries to ensure the continuity of malaria services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It had sent a clear message to malaria-affected countries in Africa and added that access to life-saving malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services should not be compromised in the efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19. Doing so will threaten to reverse decades of hard-fought progress against malaria.
In the WHO statement, Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, stated that as the COVID-19 continues its rapid spread, “We cannot leave anyone behind.” Do not scale back your planned malaria prevention, diagnostic and treatment activities. If someone living in a place with malaria develops a fever, he or she should seek diagnosis and care as soon as possible.”
AMMREN also said the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, in a similar statement in March this year, added its voice by calling on countries to maintain the momentum in the fight against malaria, saying current investments in malaria are saving almost 600,000 lives and preventing nearly 100 million cases a year.
Data from RBM Partnership to End Malaria shows that 11 countries, together, account for approximately 70 per cent of the world’s malaria burden: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, India, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. In 2018 alone, 405,000 people were said to have died from the disease, with more than 90 per cent of cases and deaths concentrated in Africa.
Figures also show that pregnant women and children continue to be hardest hit. An estimated 11 million pregnant women living in 38 African countries were infected with malaria in 2018; as a result, nearly 900 000 babies were born with a low birth weight – a major risk factor for infant mortality. Globally, children under the age of five accounted for about two-thirds of all malaria deaths in 2018. Records also show that every two minutes a child still dies of malaria.
AMMREN is therefore urging stakeholders such as traditional rulers, community and opinion leaders, churches and local civil society organizations to lend their support to the awareness creation efforts of governments. They should also continue with all malaria prevention and control activities, including the use of treated bed nets and testing before treating malaria.
“This is also time for the strengthening of various mechanisms to make quality health care for the control of diseases such as malaria, accessible and affordable. This will include providing the poor and vulnerable insurance cover that is effective.”
“National Malaria Control Programmes (NMCP) should work with various partners, especially local authorities to readily make available supplies of malaria test kits. This will scale up rapid diagnosis across all public health facilities from the lowest health facility to the bigger ones to prevent presumptuous treatment of malaria cases and the proper diagnosis of other febrile illnesses for proper health intervention,” it added.
According to AMMREN with “political will and commitment of all the war against malaria will be won. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to forget about malaria!”
By Eunice Menka