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World Malaria Day: WHO raises alarm over high deaths from disease

.Dangote advocates global joint action to end scourge by 2030

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.As Obaseki urges increased efforts to enhance deployment of new tools

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As Nigeria and Africa as a whole joined the rest of the world in marking World Malaria Day, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised concern over the increased rate of deaths associated with malaria cases in Africa.


The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, in a message to mark the 2023 World Malaria Day, congratulated the Member States and development partners for achievements over the last year but expressed great concern that malaria deaths remain unacceptably high, and cases have continued to increase since 2015.


He said the WHO African Region alone accounted, in 2021, for estimated 234 million malaria cases and 593 000 deaths, thus bearing the heaviest burden of over 95% of cases and 96% of deaths globally.


According to the WHO boss, “our Region, therefore, continues to be hardest hit by this deadly disease partly because too many people do not have access to preventive and curative interventions.


“Nearly 30% of the population in most African countries cannot access essential health services, and most people face unacceptably high expenditures on health care.


“Significant inequities affect the most vulnerable, young children and women, whereas about 80% of malaria cases and deaths occur in children under five.


“To reverse these trends and accelerate progress, we must rethink and revitalize our strategies by investing, innovating and implementing smartly:


“On investments, we are responsible for increasing funding for malaria interventions through primary health care approaches so that malaria services are accessed by the most vulnerable populations wherever they are. In 2021, endemic countries and partners mobilized only 50% of the estimated US$ 7.3 billion required globally to stay on track to defeat malaria”,


The Regional Director called on the Member States to keep malaria high on their agendas as they allocate resources to health.


On innovation, the WHO Director said there is a great need to increase the number and efficacy of control tools and strategies so that interventions can have a greater impact.


In this light, WHO said it recently prequalified new dual active ingredient insecticide-treated nets and several insecticides for indoor residual spraying.


“The new RTS, S vaccine deployment has been extended beyond the three initial countries and several other innovative products are in the pipeline. New tools and strategies are needed to address the threats of drug resistance, insecticide resistance, and new invasive vectors compromising gains in vector control.


“In this regard, we recently launched two strategies to support countries in the African continent as they work to build a more resilient response to malaria: (1) A strategy to curb antimalarial drug resistance and (2) an initiative to stop the spread of the new invasive Anopheles stephensi malaria vector – a dangerous vector that breeds in urban areas and has the potential of increasing transmission.


“Fighting against malaria vectors will require multisectoral actions and the involvement of decentralized administrative units and communities to sustain behavioural change and uptake of these tools.


“A new global framework to respond to malaria in urban areas, developed jointly by WHO and UN-Habitat guides city leaders and stakeholders.


“Meanwhile, a robust research and development pipeline is set to bring a new generation of malaria control tools that could help accelerate progress towards global targets”, it said.


On implementation, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said, “We’ll prioritise this segment as part of the 2023 campaign, and the critical importance of reaching marginalized populations with the available tools and strategies to reduce transmission for present and future gains.


She stated that Malaria programmes should be decentralized to the district and community levels where health systems are closest to the affected populations.


“We must empower frontline health workers and communities to participate fully in identifying key barriers in accessing services, ensure effective implementation of malaria control strategies and hold their leaders accountable for health outcomes.


“World Malaria Day gives us an opportunity to renew political commitments and bolster investments in malaria prevention and control”, he noted.


He, therefore,  called on each Member State to redouble its commitment to

implement an ambitious and innovative acceleration plan to rapidly reduce the burden of malaria and save the lives of its populations.


According to him, “This can be done by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has access to the quality and affordable malaria services they need.


“This will require a more granular understanding of who is missing out, why they are vulnerable, and what are their barriers to accessing malaria preventive and treatment services.


“To achieve this, Governments need to mobilize more resources and technical capacities at domestic and international levels and build effective partnerships and multisectoral mechanisms to help strengthen preventive measures and improve coverage of malaria case management services”, he stated.


The WHO maintained that “Malaria has been a stubborn public health enemy.


“In 2021 it killed 619 000 people, of whom approximately 96% lived in Africa. It is 6-20 times more likely to spread in mosquito-prone environments than the Omicron variant of sars-cov-2.


“The disease was once endemic across most of the world, sweeping through the Americas in the 1600s and reaching as far north as the Arctic coast and east as Japan. But we can now save millions of lives each year from sickness and death caused by malaria following novel progress toward the disease’s elimination.


“Today marks the 16th World Malaria Day and an appropriate time for us to take stock of malaria’s devastating impact on people’s lives and economic development in this Region.


“Concerted efforts yield positive results. In 2021, because of the joint actions by malaria-affected countries and partners, malaria deaths decreased compared to 2020 despite the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“That effort is echoed in this year’s theme: “Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement.”


” In terms of progress, a solid national-level commitment was demonstrated despite the pandemic and led to many successes: About 75% of the planned 171 million insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) were distributed.


“The seasonal malaria preventive treatment was further expanded, reaching nearly 45 million children in 15 African countries, a significant increase from 33.4 million in 2020, while malaria testing and treatment services were maintained.


“More than 1.6 billion malaria cases and 11 million malaria deaths were averted in the WHO African Region from 2000-2021.


“In addition, the first malaria vaccine recommended by WHO to prevent malaria in children (also known as RTS, S) is saving lives. In Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, where nearly 1.5 million children have received the vaccine through a WHO-coordinated pilot programme, there is a substantial decrease in hospitalizations for severe malaria and a drop in child deaths.


“At least 28 countries in Africa have expressed interest in introducing the vaccine, with some additional countries to start in early 2024.


“The unprecedented demand for the first malaria vaccine is considered an opportunity to bring children back to clinics to catch up on missed vaccines and child health interventions – including reinforcing the need for children to sleep under ITNs every night.


“It is critically important to deliver this vaccine to children at risk: WHO, Gavi, UNICEF, and other partners are working to increase supply as rapidly as possible to protect more vulnerable children and save more lives.


“Overall, in terms of reduction in malaria incidence, eight countries are on track to meet the 2025 Global Technical Strategy target (Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Ghana, Mauritania, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe). But 15 countries achieved insufficient reduction while 20  have witnessed stagnation or an increase in cases.


“Ten countries saw increases in malaria deaths. The pace of progress must be accelerated if we want to achieve the set targets for 2025 and 2030”, the world health body noted.


As World Malaria Day is marked globally, the President of Dangote Group and United Nations Malaria Ambassador for Nigeria, Aliko Dangote has called for joint actions by all stakeholders globally if the collective goal of the disease elimination by 2030 is to be achieved.


Dangote in his World Malaria Day statement titled “With Urgent Investment, Innovation and Implementation, Zero Malaria Spread is Possible” urged that all stakeholders must work together to decimate malaria, which he said had brought untold human suffering with the economic toll of the disease on global productivity.


According to him, urgent investment, innovation, and implementation by such stakeholders would help curtail malaria spread wherever the disease is found around the world.


He said “…More than ever, we must collaborate to ensure that no child or person dies of malaria or loses another day to this debilitating illness again. We must also drive further progress toward malaria elimination in Nigeria and Africa at large by focusing on three key areas to ensure that malaria elimination remains high on Nigeria’s public health and development agenda; advocate at all levels to ensure sufficient funding to sustain the progress made so far, as we jointly seek to end malaria for good and encourage private sector leaders to implement malaria prevention and treatment programmes in their companies, as we do across our businesses in the Dangote Group.”


Dangote disclosed that since 2000, global partnerships and investments in the fight against malaria have yielded positive results by preventing some 2 billion malaria cases, saving 11.7 million lives and putting eradication within reach. He, however, lamented that 96% of malaria deaths globally were found in 29 countries, with Nigeria sadly among the four countries which accounted for over half of all malaria deaths globally in 2021. He said this year’s World Malaria Day (WMD) has presented an opportunity to galvanise global efforts towards advocacy and sustained political will and investment that will be aimed at ending the scourge of the disease.


In his statement, Dangote expressed his readiness to lead the way, pledging that his Aliko Dangote Foundation (ADF) will further strengthen its engagements with the various key stakeholders in “Nigeria and globally to support the efforts to address malaria in our workplaces, communities, and especially high burden areas to attain our collective goal of malaria elimination by 2030”.


The philanthropist noted that billions of dollars were pledged by donors at the historic Global Fund Replenishment meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in 2022 to boost the fight against HIV, TB and Malaria. He, however, expressed regret that an unprecedented shortfall of more than 50% in global malaria funding is now holding countries back from maintaining life-saving malaria programmes, despite the historic pledge.


Consequently, the Malaria Ambassador said the funding gaps have been contributing to declining progress in the countries with the highest burden of malaria. “Countries will not reap the rewards of these investments without further commitment to scale up and roll out these innovations where they are needed most. For Africa to move forward, he said the Continent has to get rid of malaria once and for all. Now, according to him, is the time to take decisive action to deliver on our goal of zero malaria, spur overall development and achieve the 2030 targets”, he added.


Dangote urged that the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day: “Time to Deliver Zero Malaria: Invest, Innovate, implement” highlighted the need for urgent action and further investments to ensure existing investments deliver maximum impact in the fight to end malaria.


“As a United Nations (UN) Malaria Ambassador for Nigeria, I would like to add my voice to the global call on governments and partners around the world to: Invest more in malaria programmes to bridge critical funding gaps and accelerate progress towards the total elimination of malaria; Innovate further to deliver improved solutions to end malaria that are tailored to those who need them most and Implement national strategies to accelerate progress against this age-old disease, by demonstrating leadership, adopting innovative and sustainable approaches, and scaling up national malaria programmes to deliver lifesaving tools to those at highest risk.”


Dangote then acknowledged the positive efforts of the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as the second national drug regulator to approve the use of the R21 vaccine, saying the fight against the malaria scourge has been buoyed by the introduction of the new malaria vaccine -R21/Matrix-M, which was developed by the University of Oxford and will be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.


“As we look forward to its rollout soon. All efforts must be made to sustain the adequate sourcing and application of this innovative vaccine in the fight against malaria; akin to the noble efforts made to ensure the eradication of polio in Nigeria and Africa”, he concluded.


The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has called for increased global effort for the prevention and treatment of malaria, which is responsible for the loss of over 600,000 lives yearly, ensuring better funding for research and development, deployment of new tools and expanding access to services for the most-at-risk population.


Obaseki made the call in commemoration of 2023 World Malaria Day, with the theme, “Time to deliver zero malaria: invest, innovate, implement.” The World Malaria Day is marked every April 25, by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment to malaria prevention and control.


The governor, who acknowledged the incredible progress made in reducing the global burden of the disease, noted that despite the success so far recorded, millions of people, especially women and children in sub-Saharan Africa and other endemic regions remain susceptible to malaria as they still lack the services needed to prevent, detect and treat the disease.


According to Obaseki, “This year’s World Malaria Day presents us with yet another opportunity to strengthen efforts and partnerships to reduce the global burden of the malaria disease, one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases estimated to have claimed over 600, 000 lives annually across the globe.


“While we recognize the significant progress made in malaria elimination and eradication, it is imperative to acknowledge that more work needs to be done if the 2030 zero-malaria target must be achieved.


“We must step up efforts and collaborations to expand access to services and enhance the deployment of new tools for the detection, treatment, and prevention of malaria, including innovative diagnostics, medicines, vaccines, vector control products, and improved mechanisms for surveillance and response, especially for the most-at-risk population.”


Reaffirming the government’s commitment to strengthening the health system, the governor added that his government has embarked on interventions, including the distribution of treated mosquito nets, advocacy, and others to ensure that the people are properly equipped to fight malaria and other diseases.


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