Recent reports have indicated improved access to malaria interventions especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Diagnostic testing for children as well as preventive treatment for pregnant women has significantly increased. According to the 2016 World Malaria Report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the estimated number of malaria cases declined by 88 percent while death rates declined by 90 percent in Africa between 2000 and 2015.
However, despite this heart-warming news, the scourge has not by any means lost its potency. Malaria still poses a potent threat to global health, threatening the achievement of the WHO Global Technical Strategy (GTS) for Malaria 2016–2030 that set an ambitious target of at least a 90 percent reduction in cases, incidents and mortality rate of malaria by 2030.
According to WHO estimates, 212 million new malaria cases were recorded in 2015. In the same year, there were 490,000 deaths caused by malaria. Legacy challenges such as funding deficit, lack of adequate healthcare facilities and access to life-saving interventions have over the years jeopardized the global fight against malaria.
Interestingly most malaria-related deaths in 2015 occurred in Africa representing 92 percent mortality rate. South-East Asia accounted for 6 per cent while Eastern Mediterranean accounted for an estimated 2 percent. The WHO report further revealed that an estimated $2.9 billion was spent on malaria control and elimination in 2015 alone, having increased by $ 0.06 billion since 2010.
However, this is still not enough as it represents just 46% of the GTS 2020 milestone of US$ 6.4 billion. The GTS 2020 calls for elimination of malaria in 10 countries by 2020. Globally, millions of deaths recorded are attributed to malaria, highlighting the need for intensified interventions from local and international authorities.
Commenting on the challenge, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO said “We have made excellent progress, but our work is incomplete. Last year alone, the global tally of malaria reached 212 million cases and 429, 000 deaths. Across Africa, millions of people still lack access to the tools they need to prevent and treat the disease. In many countries, progress is threatened by the rapid development and spread of mosquito resistance to insecticides. Antimalarial drug resistance could also jeopardize recent gains. In 2015, the World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria, a 15-year malaria framework for all countries working to control and eliminate malaria. It sets ambitious but attainable goals for 2030, with milestones along the way to track progress”.
In Africa especially, the burden of malaria has continued to hamper economic growth. Malaria prevention initiatives, treatment and care have been estimated to cost Africa $12 billion annually. This is exclusive of the man-hours lost due to the sickness.
Back home in Nigeria for instance, malaria accounts for 60 percent of outpatients’ visits to health facilities, 30 percent childhood death, 25 percent of death in children under one year and 11 percent maternal death, according to statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health.
Financially, the implication is depressing. “The annual financial loss due to malaria is estimated to be about by 132 billion Naira in form of treatment costs, prevention, loss of man-hours etc; yet, it is a treatable and completely evitable disease”, the Ministry said.
The impact of malaria on national health and productivity is equally substantial. According to the National Malaria Control Programme, “Malaria is endemic in Nigeria with 97% of the population of 170 million living in areas of high malaria risk and an estimated 3% living in malaria free highlands. Nigeria bears up to 25% of the malarial disease burden in Africa, making this country with the highest malaria mortality”.
Notwithstanding the huge financial cost, the fight against malaria appears not to have abated. Governments, international agencies and some private organizations have deployed their arsenal to tackle the scourge. It is indeed a fight to finish and this is aptly communicated in this year’s theme; “End Malaria for Good”. One of such organizations that have demonstrated a strong commitment to ending malaria especially in Nigeria is ExxonMobil.
Private sector involvement
The government in collaboration with international agencies has come up with initiatives such as the National Strategic Malaria Plan (Roll Back Malaria), but the private sector has not lagged behind.
Over the years, ExxonMobil has been taking frontline positions in rolling back malaria. The oil firm has pioneered and in some cases collaborated with other corporate organizations on some initiatives to push back the lethal disease. In 2008, ExxonMobil in collaboration with Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and Standard Chartered Bank, UK, reached out to 17 African countries with the distribution of Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets (LLITNs) under its “Nets for Life” project. The programme effectively reached 475, 177 individuals across four states in Nigeria.
In 2011, ExxonMobil inaugurated ‘Power Forward’, an initiative coordinated by an NGO Africare on behalf of ExxonMobil to promote malaria prevention among its partners in the supply chain and their communities. The aim of the initiative is an 80 percent reduction in malaria and 100 percent reduction in malaria in pregnant women in Akwa Ibom State (Ibeno and Eket) and Rivers State (Bonny and Ogu bolo).
Under the initiative ExxonMobil has distributed LLITNs as well as facilitated malaria testing and vector control. A similar campaign in partnership with Jhpiego, an affiliate of John Hopskin University was done in 2011 where over 48,000 pregnant women in about 163 communities received treatment alongside LLITNs.
Other initiatives and partnerships include the NightWatch Campaign, GrazRutSoka, Power Forward programme, World Bank Monitoring and Evaluation (Branded ExxonMobil/World Bank partnership) among others. The company has committed more than $150 million to help reduce the impact of malaria.
Beyond malaria ExxonMobil has made critical interventions in the health sector. From free medical outreach to building health facilities, equipping and training health workers, the company’s activities have continued to enhance healthcare delivery in Nigeria. Between 2006 and 2011, the company spent close to N1 billion to train personnel in Biomedical Repair in Dallas, USA.
ExxonMobil also committed over N500 million to the construction of Maternal Referral Centers (MRCs) in Kwara, Imo and Bayelsa States, which will provide maternal healthcare services to women in the communities in which they were constructed, as well as to women in neighbouring communities. IN addition to this, the MRCs will provide maternal education and training so that newly established, up-to-date healthcare practices can be adopted throughout the community. The company has also contributed over N130 million in the construction of Nanka Comprehensive Health Centre to provide general healthcare services to the communities.
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, had recently assured that the country would end malaria mortality by 2020. “We have set some timeframe for ourselves. We are committed to reducing maternal mortality before the life span of this administration. We want to end malaria mortality by the end of 2020,’’ he said.
As the world marks the 2017 World Malaria Day, health experts have advised that the focus should shift significantly to malaria prevention as a sure way of attaining government’s target of reducing malaria related deaths by 2020. Dr Tosin Olowojebutu, Medical Director of Liberty-Life Hospital, Ojodu, Lagos State advised Nigerians to always use treated mosquito nets to protect themselves against mosquito attacks which lead to malaria.
The medical doctor said pregnant women and children below age five must be encouraged to use LLITNs. While admitting that malaria diagnosis had improved in the country following the national malaria policy of 2011 that recommended the use of Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) for malaria, he called for improved funding by the government and other corporate bodies in the fight against the disease.
Equally, Dr Emeka Anyanwu, a public health practitioner, said access to quality health facilities, diagnosis and proper treatment of the disease would help reduce its impact. He said in addition to that, there was need for well trained and qualified manpower in the health sector to help in the fight. Dr Anyanwu also called on government and the private sector to increase funding and support to the health sector to enable it win the fight against malaria.