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Health & Fitness

World Malaria Day: History and Progress So Far

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Ndluve is a 15-year-old South African living in the slums of Soweto. One day, he notices he has a high fever and complains to his parents. Unfortunately, due to the lack of resources and access to proper healthcare, Ndluve dies of this ‘fever’ three days later. Sadly in Africa, hundreds of thousands of Ndluves die yearly due to this fever. According to the WHO, most of the fevers which kill the Ndluves and other young African children is malaria. 

Malaria is one of the top three killers of African children. In recognition of this, the world observes World Malaria Day annually. In commemoration of this year’s edition, we discuss the event, its significance, and the different ways African governments are fighting malaria. What are the recent innovations towards overcoming malaria? How can individuals be involved in the fight against malaria? This post aims to examine all the key issues surrounding malaria. 

What is World Malaria Day?

World Malaria Day helps to raise awareness about malaria. [Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

Globally, almost 3.3 billion people are at risk of malaria. Of this population, the majority of at-risk individuals are Africans. In recognition of this, World Malaria Day is one of the eleven global public health campaigns undertaken by the World Health Organization. All over the world, public health experts and governments set out 25th of April to raise awareness on malaria. 

World Malaria Day came to be in May 2007 at the 60th General Assembly of the World Health Organization. The WHO established the Day to provide “education and understanding of malaria” and spread information on “year-long intensified implementation of national malaria-control strategies, including community-based activities for malaria prevention and treatment in endemic areas.” The precursor to World Malaria Day was the Africa Malaria Day celebrated on the 25th of April, which came into existence in May 2001 in Abuja. 

World Malaria Day is important as stakeholders in the public health sector engage in critical discussions surrounding the fight against malaria. Scientists organize conferences to discuss the latest innovations. Also, government agencies reflect on policies to combat the disease. This year, the theme of the event is “Zero Malaria—Draw the Line Against Malaria”. As the world prepares for the Day, we take a look at some of the progress made thus far.

What Strategies are African governments Adopting to Fight malaria? 

Through the strategic partnership of African nations and the Regional Office for Africa of the W.H.O, Africa is recording significant gains in the fight against malaria. According to c, WHO Regional Director for Africa, access to seasonal malaria chemoprevention for children has exponentially increased. Through the Special Malaria Fund, the intervention catered for 15 million children in 12 countries in 2018 alone. According to her, the number is expected to reach 25 million Africans in 2025. 

African governments are also stepping up awareness and public knowledge about Malaria. According to WHO, due to far-reaching campaigns against malaria, the infant mortality rate due to malaria has significantly reduced. These gains are most pronounced in Ghana, Burundi, and Tanzania, where the mortality rate has reduced by up to 50% over the last fifteen years. 

Due to this surge in awareness, Africans are now taking preventive measures against the disease. Official figures from the African Union Malaria Report 2017 shows that more people at the risk of malaria are now sleeping under insecticide-treated nets. The report also shows that more Africans now have access to Artemisinin-based therapy.

Innovations in the Fight against Malaria 

In the fight against malaria, researchers are making progress in the development of a vaccine. The 2015 RTS,S vaccine presents a new frontier in the onslaught against malaria. Although the vaccine only provides partial immunity against malaria, it represents significant progress in tackling the disease, especially within populations of Africans living in extreme poverty. Countries like Kenya and Malawi now record decreasing malaria cases of as much as 10% over the last five years. 

As more research is ongoing into developing vaccines with greater efficacy against the disease, World Malaria Day intends to beam the searchlight on research efforts. The event will also help to increase funding commitment towards research and innovation against malaria. 

Challenges to Achieving a Malaria-free Africa

Although there have been gains in the fight against malaria, key problems remain unsolved. First, there are still significant gaps in the implementation and delivery of malaria interventions in many African countries. For example, WHO recommends preventative treatment in pregnancy (IPTp). However, only about 19% of eligible pregnant women received the recommended 3 or more doses of IPTp in 2016 in Africa. 

In addition, government funding for malaria still does not match with the ambition of the Global Technical Strategy. Funding for malaria (and health generally) remains on the decline in Africa. This means there is a challenge with having sustainable government funding to augment the international funding that’s available for malaria prevention and control. In fact, less than 10 African nations allocate up to 15% of their annual budget to health.

The Role of Individuals and other Stakeholders in Stemming the Surge of Malaria 

World Malaria Day also aims to sensitize members of the community on their role in the fight against malaria. Chief among these roles is the importance of observing safe preventive measures. According to the World Health Organization, the most prevalent causative factor for malaria in Africa is the disregard for hygiene and preventive measures. Hence, more Africans must be involved in keeping their environments clean and using insecticide nets. 

Where possible, privileged individuals and other NGOs can do more to support the poor and vulnerable populations. Awareness campaigns, provision of drugs and vaccination, and provision of healthcare facilities for the treatment of malaria are also necessary interventions that could be made. 

Government must also provide a stronger healthcare framework for tackling malaria. The funding for healthcare must be better; there must be better hospitals and better access to drugs and nets. Also, African governments must lift more people out of poverty so as to enable them to assess quality healthcare.

How Individuals can Directly Contribute to the Fight Against Malaria

As World Malaria Day approaches, individuals can contribute to the global fight against malaria by contributing to efforts by organizations to curb malaria. Donor programs are available for well-meaning individuals to contribute in cash and relief materials. These organizations include the United Nations Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and Amref Health Africa.

Conclusion

World Malaria Day is upon us. Individuals and stakeholders must continue to make efforts to drive out malaria from the continent. Thankfully, some African countries have been able to achieve this feat. Thus, this should provide motivation to other countries still struggling to contain the protozoan. This World Malaria Day, how will you contribute to the eradication of malaria? Do let us know in the comment section. 

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