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INSIGHT: With Over 90% Of Nigerians At Risk, Will Malaria Vaccine Be The Game Changer?

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Months after a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) listed Nigeria as contributing 27 percent of the global malaria cases, Osagie Ehanire, minister of health, said the country needs N352 billion to implement its strategic malaria plan for 2021, TheCable reports.

According to the WHO world malaria report 2020, six countries made up more than half of the cases worldwide, and Nigeria accounted for the highest number of fatalities with 23 percent of deaths. Children under five are the most vulnerable group, while according to statistics, over 90% of Nigerians are at risk.

It was, therefore, welcome news when the WHO, on October 6, endorsed the widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine.

There’s more on the malaria vaccine here.

‘MALARIA KILLS MORE CHILDREN THAN COVID’

With concerns on poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare, the thriving anti-malaria drug market, among other issues, there are questions on how much difference the malaria vaccine will make for Nigeria’s population of over 200 million people.

The National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP) is responsible for formulating and facilitating policy guidelines, coordinating activities of stakeholders on malaria control, and providing technical support to states and LGAs.

“We also have other preventive measures for pregnant women, called intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy, and interventions such as distribution of nets. You know that we’ve been doing net campaigns across different states, even during the pandemic. We ensured that all these interventions didn’t stop during the pandemic because malaria kills more children than even COVID,” Perpetua Uhomoibhi, national coordinator of NMEP, said.

“The government and partners have continued to roll out interventions for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria in health facilities and at community level.”

Gbenga Mokuolu, associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Ilorin with over 15 years experience in the care of newborn in the tropics and malaria case management, said although the journey ahead is still far, the country has made significant progress.

“The fight against malaria is not something that can be achieved with a magic wand. It is a continuous, sustained and intense engagement for us to get the results that we want,” he told TheCable.

“You need a multipronged approach to deal with habitats that would have ordinarily favoured the multiplication of the mosquito, and you also need human behavioral practices that will limit the possibility of it or the effective treatment of malaria when someone comes down with it.

“Nigeria has been taking the relevant steps, and we have been making some progress. As of 2010, when you go to the communities to test how many children between five and 10 years old have the parasite in their blood, you’ll find about 40 percent. But by 2018, the number came down to 23 percent. 

“So, this year, activities are on to conduct such a survey again, and people are gradually being mobilised to different states to collect samples. At the end of that activity, we’ll know the further progress that has been made.”

WILL THE VACCINE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Poverty and environmental factors which may be natural or human-induced — such as refuse dumps, potholes, abandoned ditches and overgrown bushes — contribute significantly to the spread of malaria.

The WHO says the vaccine offers some hope for Africa, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease. With Nigeria carrying a considerably large amount of this burden, the vaccine is expected to help — when used alongside other preventive measures.

According to Mokuolu, the development of the vaccine is great news.

“It is a welcome development. It is not yet at the level of a perfect solution, but it is beneficial in reducing the burden of malaria,” he said, adding that while the vaccine is only “complementary”, it should be used alongside other measures like mosquito nets since the vaccine does not provide a high percentage of immunity.

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