IT must take some bravery for the Minister of Health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu to announce than more than 90 per cent of Nigeria’s population, 150.3 million (the population of ECOWAS countries without Nigeria), is at risk of malaria infection. The only emergency plan was use of more mosquito nets.
He then recited a litany of the woes from malaria like nursery rhymes. “Malaria is a major public problem in Nigeria; Nigeria contributes a quarter of malaria burden in Africa. Over 90 per cent of the country’s 167 million people are at risk. It contributes 30 per cent to childhood mortality in the country and contributes 11 per cent of maternal mortality. I must add that it reduces Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product by one per cent annually. It is estimated that malaria-related illnesses and mortality cost Africa’s economy about $12 billion annually,” the Minister chanted.
How can malaria be this dangerous and all that the Minister of Health does is to wait for the next World Malaria Day to tell Nigerians to buy more mosquito nets? Was that what Chukwu meant when he promised improved health indices on assumption of office in May 2010?
“First, primary duty is to ensure that Nigerians begin to enjoy good health indices because right now our health indices, child and maternal mortality rates are dismal. My primary task is to ensure that we raise the indices to an appreciable and enviable level. In three months Nigerians will begin to see sign of changes,” he said then.
The picture he painted on Tuesday was of continuing woes. According to him, the Malaria Indicator Survey Nigeria conducted in 2010 showed that about 52 per cent of children aged six months to five years tested positive to malaria. Experts hold that if these children survive, their physical and mental growth would be adversely affected. A combination of malaria infection with poor nutrition ensures that many of those children would have stunted growth and poor mental development.
Over-dependence on foreign initiatives on malaria will fail us. The World Health Organisation, WHO, formally began proposing to eradicate malaria in 1955. Today malaria is claiming more territories and there are fears that with climate change, some parts of Europe and North America, now safe from the anopheles mosquitoes, may breed the harmful mosquitoes.
Nigeria needs to commit resources to researches on malaria vaccine. Malaria may seem a global challenge, but Nigeria bears a huge part of that burden. For starts, health and environmental officials should keep our surroundings clear of the stagnant waters where mosquitoes breed.
Governments owe Nigerians more commitment to the fight against malaria than reeling out more depressing statistics every year.