World Malaria Day 2020
April 24, Accra – World Malaria Day, which takes place on 25th April every year, 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 2020 World Malaria Day is, for the second year being celebrated under the theme: “Zero Malaria Starts With Me”. The celebration 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 centre stage. The world is currently facing a very challenging time, coping with the emergence of a new pandemic, COVID 19. 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.
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. 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, is urging all stakeholders not to abandoned the fight against malaria.
The Network warns against diversion of funds set aside for activities such as prevention, diagnosis, treatment and control of malaria. Doing so will 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.
The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed similar concerns in a statement released in March. The world body urged countries to ensure the continuity of malaria services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the WHO statement, Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, stated that as the COVID-19 continues its rapid spread, WHO would like to send a clear message to malaria-affected countries in Africa and adds 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. “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,” he added.
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% 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% of cases and deaths concentrated in Africa.
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 5 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 calls for stepped-up action across all endemic countries, particularly in countries hardest hit by malaria. They should fully embrace the “High burden to high impact” approach, spearheaded by WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria. The approach provides a response that can help ensure future success in malaria control and eventual elimination.
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.
AMMREN also urges 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 mechanism 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.
With political will and commitment of all the war against malaria will be won. COVID-19 cannot be an excuse to forget about malaria!!!!!!
The African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN) is a registered non-governmental organization made up of a network of African journalists and scientists working together towards the control and elimination of malaria. Established in 2006. AMMREN is present in 10 African countries, namely, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and The Gambia. AMMREN is based in Accra, Ghana. AMMREN has over the past 14 years been actively involved in media advocacy for the elimination of malaria and other diseases on the African continent. The Network worked closely with scientists and researchers who carried out the RTS.S malaria vaccine in 11 sites in seven (7) African countries. AMMREN members produced articles to disseminate timely information on the vaccine to communities. It has since 2012, expanded its activities to cover other infectious, emerging and non-communicable diseases such as Ebola and diabetes. The vision of AMMREN is to see a society of well-informed people working together to end malaria and other diseases.
Dr. Charity Binka
African Media and Malaria Research Network