Many lives can be saved by following basic hygiene standards, writes Daniel Ighakpe

A recent walk down the street somewhere around my neighborhood revealed a large crowd of people gathered around the ‘Agbo’ vendor, each waiting to buy a dose of the herb – a popular concoction typically used to treat malaria and d other diseases such as hemorrhoids, typhoid fever; and others. Many people who cannot afford the high cost of malaria medication regularly visit the ‘Agbo’ joint to get a dose of this herbal concoction. Even many other people who have taken prescribed antimalarial drugs, but whose symptoms keep recurring, come to visit the ‘Agbo’ joint.

Agbo is a herbal concoction that originated with the Yoruba tribe and is slowly penetrating communities across Africa. It is made by boiling the leaves, roots and/or bark of specific trees in water or infusing them in alcohol. Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that continues to have a devastating impact on the health and livelihoods of people around the world. In 2020, there were approximately 241 million new cases of malaria and 627,000 malaria-related deaths in 85 countries. More than two-thirds of deaths were among children under five living in the WHO African Region.

World Malaria Day is observed annually on April 25 to bring global attention to efforts to end malaria and encourage action to reduce suffering and death from the disease. World Malaria Day 2022 will be marked under the theme “Harnessing innovation to reduce the burden of malaria and save lives”. The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for investments and innovations that bring new vector control approaches, diagnostics, antimalarial drugs and other tools to accelerate the pace of progress against malaria.

What is malaria? Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Its symptoms include fever, chills, sweating, headache, body aches, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can sometimes reappear every 48 to 72 hours, depending on the type of parasite involved and how long the person has had the disease.

Malaria is one of the major health problems affecting many countries around the world. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And Nigeria, the most populous black country, is one of the most affected countries. Therefore, this year’s World Malaria Day reminds us of the need to protect ourselves against mosquito bites by using insecticide-treated bed nets, wearing clothes that cover most parts of the body, and using a insect repellent on exposed skin.

Children under five are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. Statistics have shown that every year in Nigeria an average of 300,000 children are killed by malaria. The disease is also responsible for 11% of all maternal deaths. Worryingly, a large majority of these deaths are linked to highly preventable causes, such as basic health care, hygiene, homelessness and sanitation practices. Most of these deaths were also fueled by poverty and a lack of awareness among the general population.

Considering the above, awareness of the need to keep our environment clean can be very helpful. All stakeholders, including government, health practitioners, businesses and NGOs, can be involved in creating such awareness about malaria prevention and control.

Another method that can help fight malaria is surveillance. This involves tracking disease and programmatic responses, and taking action based on the data received. Countries with a high malaria burden, such as Nigeria, require effective surveillance at all stages of the pathway to malaria elimination. Therefore, stronger malaria surveillance systems are urgently needed to enable rapid and effective response to malaria in endemic areas, to prevent outbreaks and resurgences, to track progress, and to hold governments and the community to account. malaria worldwide.

Although much progress has been made in efforts to combat the scourge of malaria, there are still serious issues that threaten the progress made so far. What are some of these issues? One of them is the emergence of resistance to insecticides in Anopheles mosquitoes. According to a World Malaria Report, 68 countries reported mosquito resistance to at least one of five commonly used insecticide classes during the period 2010-2017. Of these countries, 57 have reported resistance to at least two classes of insecticide.

There is therefore an urgent need for new and improved tools in the global response to malaria. WHO also stresses the critical need for all countries with ongoing malaria transmission to develop and implement effective insecticide resistance management strategies.

Yet another serious issue undermining malaria control efforts is the problem of antimalarial drug resistance. Antimalarial drug resistance is a recurring problem. Protecting the efficacy of antimalarial drugs is essential to the control and elimination of malaria. Regular monitoring of drug efficacy is needed to inform treatment policies in countries where malaria is endemic like Nigeria. It also helps ensure early detection and response to drug resistance.

The government can support malaria prevention by ensuring that there is good environmental sanitation to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes that transmit malaria. It is also important to provide preventive tablets and mosquito nets to pregnant women, children under five and their mothers, to prevent the disease. The government must ensure that test kits are readily available at all health facilities, so people can get tested before treatment to prevent resistance to current drugs for treatment.

What steps can individuals and families take to protect themselves against malaria? It is worth noting that malaria is both preventable and curable. Many lives can be saved by simply observing basic hygiene standards. It is important for people to keep their surroundings clean and clear drainage to avoid standing water where mosquitoes live.

Ighakpe writes from Lagos