MINISTER of Health Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu last year announced that 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. His prescribed emergency plan was use of more mosquito nets.
Like all those before him, the Minister summarises the malaria scourge in clichés that belie the ruination from malaria. “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.
So what is the next step? How can malaria be this dangerous – it really is – and all that our health officials do is wait for the next World Malaria Day to advertise mosquito nets to Nigerians? When Professor Chukwu assumed office in May 2010, he promised improved health indices.
“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,” Professor Chukwu said in 2010.
The picture remains one of continuing woes. 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.
Dependence on foreign initiatives on malaria will not work. 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 is not a global challenge. Nigeria bears a huge part of the malaria burden. Few countries would ignore an issue that wipes away a per cent of its GDP which is what malaria does to Nigeria.
Health and environmental officials at state and local government levels should enforce sanitation laws that would deny mosquitoes breeding grounds. The world’s interest is more in selling mosquito nets than fighting malaria.
Our governments should be more committed to eliminating malaria; enough of depressing statistics.