By Chioma Obinna
As the world marks this year’s World Malaria Day, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, has identified malaria infection as one risk factor that would increase the case fatality of COVID-19 even as it noted that about 97 per cent of the country’s population was at risk of malaria infection.
Stating this in a message to mark the day in Lagos, the National President of PSN, Pharm Sam Ohuabunwa who noted that Plasmodium falciparum was the most prevalent malaria parasite in Nigeria accounting for 99.7 per cent of estimated malaria cases added that as COVID-19 pandemic challenges the entire world, the importance of strong health systems to fight deadly infectious diseases like malaria, becomes more obvious.
He noted that continuous improvement against malaria can only be achieved with increased investment, and World Malaria Day presents an opportunity to remind world leaders of their commitments to end the preventable and treatable disease.
Ohuabunwa said in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a need for increased funding to cover all those at risk of malaria infection and improve on research and development.
“Innovative strategies to end extreme poverty will impact positively on efforts to contain public health challenges like malaria, emerging and re-emerging ones like COVID -19 and Ebola.”
Ohuabunwa said in 2018, 27 countries reported fewer than 100 indigenous cases of the disease, up from 17 countries in 2010.
“Over the last decade, 10 countries have been certified by the WHO as malaria-free, with Algeria and Argentina making the 2019 list. According to the WHO Director-General, their success should be a model and inspiration for all malaria-endemic countries,” he noted.
He lamented that Nigeria was far from becoming malaria-free but was making remarkable progress.
According to WHO, world malaria report of December 2019, Nigeria came from almost 153 000 deaths in 2010 to about 95 000 deaths in 2018, accounting for almost 24 percent of all global malaria deaths.
He noted that Nigeria needs to rethink her budget and investment in infrastructure especially the health sector for stronger and robust health care systems which can withstand pressure in the face of a pandemic.
“The present COVID-19 pandemic is a drama rehearsal of the worst to come. Most world leaders today are more national than global oriented. Several countries shot their doors to the export of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) within the pandemic. We need to get to work now. We cannot continue to depend on handouts, he added.
While commending the proactive initiative of the CBN for the 100 Billion Pharma industry intervention funds, and hope for a timely disbursement devoid of unnecessary bureaucracies, Ohuabunwa stated that there are still a lot of gaps in funding Research and development.
“The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and the Schools of Pharmacy in Nigeria have all it takes to make Nigeria a hub for APIs but grossly underfunded. Unless we take charge of malaria interventions, elimination and eradication of the disease may not be near.
He said deliberate attention should be paid to the community Pharmacists who provide over 60 percent of the malaria interventions in the country.
Ohuabunwa added that the Government should structure single digit, less encumbered loans to assist the business aspect of the Practice to improve availability and access to medicines as it is a core responsibility of government to ensure affordable Pharmaceutical care for its citizens.
Drugs are lifesaving special commodities and should not be allowed to compete with luxury items for high-interest loans. Malaria rapid test kits should be dropped at community Pharmacies for free testing of patients prior to the commencement of chemotherapy.