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Let us not ease on the fight against malaria

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SACHIN VARMA

By SACHIN VARMA
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Currently, the world is largely embroiled in one of the greatest health emergencies of our times — Covid-19, an emergency that has so far caused immense disruption and suffering.

The disease has affected over 2.5 million people and claimed the lives of over 160,000 globally as of the last count.

There is no doubt that this pandemic is testing the resilience of healthcare systems globally, especially due to the ease with which it is spreading.

The situation is even more dire in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa where preventable diseases such as malaria still exert pressure to the healthcare systems.

Malaria, which is a preventable and treatable disease, is still one of leading causes of death globally, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that half of the world population still lives at risk of the disease, which costs a child’s life every two minutes.

Data from a WHO report on preventable disease in 2018 reveals that there were an estimated 228 million cases of malaria worldwide, with 405,000 lives lost due to malaria.

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Africa accounted for 94 per cent of the global malaria deaths mostly because majority of infections in Africa are caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous of the four human malaria parasites.

The other reason is lack of access to proper healthcare and medication. Coronavirus is today putting more pressure on our national health systems and threatening to undo the great progress made over the years to combat malaria.

Between 2000 and 2018, malaria mortality rates in Africa fell by 66 per cent among all age groups. In Kenya, child mortality fell by about eight per cent annually, with infant mortality declining from 52 to 39 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2015.

The under-five mortality rate has also fallen during this period, which has been a positive in this fight.

These gains have largely been due to the concerted efforts by governments and international health partners through funding and awareness. For example, the progress in the use of mosquito nets has been impressive.

WHO data shows that in 2000, just two per cent of the 667 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa at that time slept under mosquito nets.

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By 2017, more than half of Africa’s a billion people were using bed nets. The rapid expansion in diagnostic testing and the availability of antimalarial medicines has also allowed many more people to benefit from timely and appropriate treatment of malaria.

Efforts to prevent malaria have also resulted in significant healthcare cost savings. Sub-Saharan countries saved up to $900 million on the costs of malaria case management between 2001 and 2017, according to WHO World Malaria Report.

Reckitt Benckiser (RB) has been steadfast in the fight against malaria. First, through investment in Mortein Doom insecticide products that are aimed at providing protection from mosquitos.

We have also led education campaigns in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and other partners to wipe out malaria in Kenya.

This said, it is important to remind the world that it would be a great disaster if we were all to relax our efforts towards the malaria fight.

It is of critical importance that efforts to detect, treat and most importantly prevent the disease are sustained even during this period when we are all involved in fighting Covid-19.

Prevention of malaria must, in fact, be of prime importance if the world is to contain this disease going forward.

As populations are informed and educated on the means to prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus disease, similar sustained efforts must continue to raise awareness on malaria and increase the efforts in preventing and treating the disease.

As the world marked the World Malaria Day on Saturday, it is important that we continue with efforts against the fight even as we combat coronavirus.

We must remain committed to supporting the prevention of malaria infection and deaths through preventive measures.

Mr Varma is the Reckitt Benckiser Country Manager, East Africa





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