Malaria Scourge: Nigeria Should Scale Up Research Funding – NIMR

Chioma Umeha

Hardly is anyone free from suffering the bout of what is commonly known as ‘ordinary malaria,’ be it young or old.  Malaria neither respects age nor gender. However, infants and pregnant women seem to experience the worst bout, especially in Africa, Nigeria inclusive.
Globally, an estimated 3.4 billion people are at risk of being infected with malaria and developing the disease while 1.1 billion is at high risk of the disease annually.
Malaria scourge afflicts nearly 50 per cent of people worldwide with about 90 per cent of cases occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.
The World Malaria Report 2018 states that there were 219 million cases and 435,000 deaths as a result of the disease in 2017.
The figure represents a global decrease in malaria cases and death rates to 18 per cent and 28 per cent respectively between 2010 and 2017.
The report also states that, an estimated 93 per cent of all malaria deaths occurred in sub-Sahara Africa and in Children under five years who accounted for 61 per cent of all deaths.
However, the Nigeria Malaria Indicator Survey (NMIS) 2015 report revealed a decline in malaria prevalence from 42 per cent 2010 to 27 per cent nationwide, while in Lagos, the prevalence was said to be zero per cent.
Despite the NMIS report, malaria has remained a major public health challenge in Nigeria.  The disease is responsible for 30 per cent of childhood morbidity, 25 per cent mortality and among the pregnant women, it accounts for more than one in 10 deaths.
In Lagos State, malaria is responsible for more than 70 per cent of the outpatient attendance in the public health facilities. More than 400,000 cases are reported annually.
More worrisome is the high occurrence as reported in children under five years and pregnant women where the infection can be very serious.
Therefore, the call by stakeholders for every Nigerian to get involved and eliminate malaria in the environment is not a coincidence.
Researchers also reiterated this call at an event to mark this year’s World Malaria Day, (WMD) with the theme: “Zero Malaria Starts With Me.”
At the event, organised by Nigeria Institute Of Medical Research, (NIMR) in collaboration with Society For Mosquito Control In Nigeria and Malaria Society of Nigeria, Nigerians were tasked to ensure clean environment.
Commenting, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako, the Director- General, NIMR, said the World Malaria Report 2018 however, reveals insufficient levels of access to uptake of lifesaving anti-malaria commodities and interventions, adding that these gaps must be filled if malaria is to be defeated for good.
Prof. Salako said that emphasis in malaria control and elimination has shifted from private-public sector involvement by becoming a collective effort involving individual efforts which demands clean environment among other responsibilities.
He said NIMR will continue to work with institutions and partners to ensure that high level quality anti- malarial are delivered to Nigerians.
Speaking on drug resistance to malaria, Dr. Babatunde Puddicombe, President, Nigeria Society of Malaria, decried high rate of drug resistance, noting that as many Malaria drugs in the market are substandard ones.
He said; “There was a survey at Idumota which showed about 20 different brands of malaria drugs that were not registered are being sold in the open market. The control is not as what it used to be. Fake drugs are getting into the country left, right and centre.”
Puddicombe however urge the Federal Government to channel more efforts to check influx of fake drugs in the country, not just on malaria. He regretted that more people who believe that they are taking adequate treatment are dying from malaria.
The Nigeria Society of Malaria boss also advised that Federal Government to put place adequate measures to curb fake drugs, even as he advised patients to buy drugs with Scratch Pads and from credible Pharmacies.
He further called for adequate funding of NAFDAC as it will spur the agency to excellent performance and carry out more activities and be able to control the inflow of fake substandard drugs in the country.
Speaking on research, Dr. Sam Awolola, Director, Malaria Research at NIMR, said government should provide the enabling environment to carry out research.
He said; “We all need to recognise the fact that Malaria is still a major problem and we need to do something by playing our own role in our environment by ensuring we don’t have stagnant water around.”
He however said that as a nation, a lot of progress has been made. “In the past, you will hear, Malaria has been over diagnosed. We are getting it right through figures of malaria prevalence in the country now. In terms of intervention, we have moved forward, but a lot is still needed to be done because Nigeria Prevalence is still high.”
According to him, Nigeria is still very far from malaria elimination, hence government as well as partners needs to do more work.
He said government most make sure its intervention is evidenced base as research is key to fighting malaria.
Awolola added that Nigeria’s Budget for research is poor, “We depend on donors and we can’t do that forever. The country should own up to research funding, then we can say that we are in control and be able to make desired impact.”
Contributing, Dr. Bamboye Afolabi, a medical doctor and Chief Medical Research Fellow said Malaria has been with the country for a long time.
Similarly, Dr. Afolabi lamented, there is poor fund allocation to combat malaria, but with the help of partners like WHO, USAID, DFID, their huge support in Nigeria is helping fight against malaria.”
According to Afolabi; “There is challenge of poor power supply and once one sleeps under the insecticide treated net and there is no power, the heat it generates would make one remove the net.”
Afolabi who is also the CEO of Health and Environment Foundation observed that Nigeria is a diverse country with different eco system like, desert, coastal, savannah, low land and high land. Noting that the disease manifest differently in all the various system, he said it needs a systematic approach to control the scourge.