By Paul Okediji
If you’ve lived in Africa before, especially around the middle of the continent, chances are you’ve had malaria before. And it is obvious you survived it, right? Malaria is an illness endemic to this part of the world. It is so common we do not see it in the same light as we see conditions like heart attack or avian influenza. A large percentage of people do not even bother seeing a doctor anymore as they can easily ‘diagnose’ the condition and quickly ‘prescribe’ a couple of medicines to do the job. But do you know that about 219 million cases of malaria are estimated to occur around the world each year and 660,000 individuals die annually from it, particularly pregnant women and children less than five years of age? Sometimes, it is hard to believe that malaria really kills, but it does. There are several evidences to show for this. The numbers tell their own story, and even the cases we see around us are worth having sleepless nights over. The irony of the whole matter is that malaria is an entirely preventable and treatable one.
The main culprit in the transmission of the disease is the Anopheles mosquito, transmitting any of the four identified Plasmodium parasite species between infected and non-infected humans. There have been several strategies directed at reducing the numbers of these biting insects. This is because it is believed that vector control is the most important way to reduce the spread of malaria at the community level. However, mosquitoes swarming in their tens and hundreds are still a relatively common phenomenon in Africa, encouraged by shallow collections of fresh water in puddles and gutters, or around bushes.
The sixth millennium development goal aims at stopping and reducing the incidence of malaria globally. So far, much progress has been made in this regard. Since 2000, malaria mortality has dropped by more than 33%, stemming mainly from stronger prevention and control measures (MDG Report 2012). The efforts of several individuals and organizations need to be commended in this regard as the myriad of policies and strategies for malaria control and elimination seem to be yielding fruits. Examples include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Malaria Foundation International, UAM, etc. And as a result of these efforts, the use of larvicides, insecticide treated nets, indoor residual spraying techniques, and efficacious antimalarial agents are gradually increasing in most African countries and beyond. This points to the fact that the elimination of malaria is just a matter of time. Malaria would soon become a thing of the past.
Every year since 2007, the 25th day of the fourth month is set aside to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained political commitment for malaria prevention and control. World Malaria Day is a day we need to sit down and re-evaluate our position and our contribution towards making sure that the elimination of malaria becomes a reality. As much as big organizations and corporations are contributing their own quota towards strengthening malaria control efforts, we as individuals need to do our own part. Asides trying to keep our environments unsuitable for the breeding of mosquitoes, we need to also support foundations aimed at developing and implementing solutions to the malaria problem either financially or creating awareness of their efforts.
A lot more still needs to be done. We definitely still have a long way to go, but by investing in our future, we can, and we will beat malaria