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Malaria morbidity, mortality rate could double by year end –NMEP cries out

By Victor Akaa, Abuja

The National Coordinator, National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP), Dr. Audu Bala Mohammed has expressed worry that Malaria transmission and death toll could double by the end of year 2020 in Sub-Saharan African states due to the effect of Covid- 19 pandemic plaguing the world over.

Dr. Mohammed made the assertion during the 2020 first bia-annual media chat held in Abuja.

He said, the Malaria morbidity and mortality rate in sub-saharan Africa in 2020 would exceed the total number of malaria
deaths reported globally in the year 2000.

This, he said was necessitated by the advent of Covid- 19 that has adverse effect to the economic growth of countries in the world and lack of malaria intervention programmes from other foreign governments and international organisations.

According to him, it is critical Nigeria and other malaria pandemic countries minimize any disruptions
of malaria prevention and treatment during the COVID-19 response given that failure to do so
could lead to catastrophic loss of life.

Dr. Audu Mohammed who was represented by the Head ACSM, Mr. Chukwu Okoronkwu, noted that malaria has been consistently highlighted as one of the key health challenges that Nigeria has to deal with.

According to him, there have been some progress most especially a reduction in the malaria prevalence from 42% to 23%, along with a 38% reduction in mortality, according to the 2018 NDHS results.

He explained that key progress indicators such as net use, uptake of 1PTp by pregnant women, seeking of care during fever, and use of the appropriate antimalarial are improving.

He However said, “a lot still needs to improve, as we are not close to most of the targets we had set out to achieve in our current malaria strategic plan”.

Mohammed disclosed that with the onset of the current COVID-19 pandemic the malaria challenge seems to be compounded.

He explained that, the outcomes of a recent survey by Global Funds indicated that malaria and a few other key services are being seriously disrupted on account of countries’ and their health systems’ response to the pandemic.

According to him, the Global Funds noted that activities are being canceled due to Lockdown Restrictions on gatherings of people, Transport stoppages Covid treatment stigma, Reluctance of health workers to attend to people suspected of having TB or malaria which have many of the same initial symptoms as COVID-19, Clients not seeking health services.

He said “Recent projections suggest that where most prevention activities are cancelled or delayed, and malaria services like insecticide-treated net campaigns and access to antimalarial medicines experience severe disruption.

“For us we intend to ensure access to and use of ITNs are maintained through campaigns that are adapted to protect health workers and communities from COVID-19.

“We also intend to continue case management of malaria, including prompt diagnostic testing and treatment, delivered safely and appropriately.

“The National Malaria Elimination Programme has developed and is implementing a business continuity plan for the rest of this year, prioritizing interventions, streamlining campaign activities
(for both Long Last Insecticidal Nets and Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention), and developing
appropriate messaging including risk communication based on the evolving pandemic.

He However said, given that COVID-19 entry symptoms are same as those of malaria, there are concerns by community members seeking appropriate care.

These concerns he also said are associated with fear of exposure to COVID-19, further delays at health facilities, and stigmatization.

Saying that it may have further been compounded by the hype on mortalities associated with COVID-19 and existing
measures to suppress the pandemic such as restrictions on use of public transport, all of which
could further hinder accessibility to care.

Community sensitization and mobilization around the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of
malaria have been key features of our programme implementation but these have now become
critical in the context of the pandemic.

He recalled that the theme for World Malaria Day 2020 was: “Zero Malaria Starts with Me and the accompanying slogan was: “Your Fever Could Be Malaria Get Tested”.

“This slogan is still apt as there is need for every person with
fever to first test for malaria to rule this out before going for further investigations.

“As you are already aware we recommend the use of MRDT which is quick, more accessible and inexpensive (free in some government health facilities across the country).

“This is the time to implore the Nigerian populace to take the necessary preventive measures to
avoid getting sick with malaria such as sleeping inside the net every night, having screens on door end windows (for those that can afford it), pregnant women uptake of preventive measures during pregnancy, and ensuring children below 5 years in the Sabellian are brought out to have preventive medicines during the SMC campaigns.

During his Paper presentation on the topic “Dealing with Covid- 19 Related Stigma and Fear to Sustain and Improve Access to Malaria Interventions” via Zoom, Prof. Olugbenga Mokuolu said, stigma and fear has adverse effects on the health response system.

He however said, lack of malaria intervention from the able bodied organisations could lead to 2 –3 fold risks.

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