Malaria is a killer − but it’s preventable and curable

Left untreated, malaria can lead to mental illness and it can be fatal − but, although life-threatening, it is preventable and curable.

Last Sunday was World Malaria Day. The World Health Organisation (WHO) marked the day to make people more aware about the disease and how it could be treated and, better still, prevented.

In an effort to unify and build on the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” movement, World Malaria Day 2021 focused on this year’s theme, “Zero Malaria − Draw the Line Against Malaria”, exploring ways to eliminate the disease in high-burden areas.

The objectives for this year’s World Malaria Day were to:

  • Highlight the successes of countries in the malaria fight;
  • Inspire a new group of countries that have the potential to eliminate the disease by 2025; and
  • Demonstrate that zero malaria is within reach for all countries.

Two of the best forms to control and prevent infection are insecticide-treated mosquito nets and indoor residual spraying.

The Borno State government had confirmed 1,071,902 malaria cases and 951 deaths in the past four years, from 2017 to 2020.

The highest number of cases were last year when the disease claimed 370 deaths.

Under this year’s theme, “Zero Malaria − Draw the Line Against Malaria”, Borno governor Babagana Zulum’s chief of staff, Professor Isa Hussaini Marte, who doubles as the overseeing commissioner of health, said on Sunday that malaria remained a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Nigeria, accounting for more than 20% of the global malaria burden of deaths.

Falmata Bukar, the focal person for the elimination of malaria in the Maiduguri metropolitan area, said the rate and percentage of malaria cases were increasing daily in almost all the clinics and hospitals in Borno State.

The WHO and its partners had been seasonally distributing malaria drugs − during the rainy season from August to mid-October − targeting children from 0 to 59 months to try to halt the spread of the disease.

Bashir Bello Gaya, a doctor in Maiduguri, said there had been a notable spike in malaria cases in the city, even though it was the dry season.

The high temperatures – it is expected to reach 43°C on Sunday – often left people dehydrated, lowering their immune system and triggering the escalation of the disease, he said, adding that people had to adhere to precautionary measures.

“If you want to reduce the rate at which the disease escalates, you need to take precautionary measures. The trouble is that people do not take the advice given by professionals.”

Gaya said people had to get used to sleeping under a mosquito net. They should wear trousers and long-sleeve shirts. If on medication, people needed to ensure they took the drugs at the right time and that they completed the course.

Health workers and medics called on the government, non-governmental organisations and development partners to come to their aid.

Parents were advised to adhere to the precautionary measures and to get an early diagnosis and treatment to reduce the disease and prevent deaths.

  • In 2019, six countries accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths worldwide: Nigeria (23%), the Democratic Republic of Congo (11%), Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4%).

Other countries in Africa that carried a high burden of the disease were Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Uganda. India also had a high rate of the disease.

According to Reliefweb, Nigeria had some of the highest number of deaths from malaria worldwide.

Usually, peak malaria season takes place during the rainy season from August to mid-October, when mosquitoes breed, after which patient numbers begin to decrease. However, medical teams from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) working in Borno State had witnessed a spike in malaria cases even in the dry season.

Children under the age of five were the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. In 2019 they accounted for 67% (274,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.

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