Vaccines and Nigeria’s march towards malaria eradication
Following a programme that started 70 years ago, China has eliminated malaria and is certified malaria-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in June 2021.
On 14 April 2021, Nigeria launched the Implementation of the Global Fund 2021-2023 Malaria Grant, to support the elimination of the disease and for building a resilient sustainable system for health across the country.
At a physical and virtual ceremony, in Abuja, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehnaire, said the grant will accelerate Nigeria’s progress towards reducing the malaria burden as well as strengthening the health system.
The launch was follow up of the presidential launch of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) and marked the beginning of the implementation of the Global Fund 2021-2023 Malaria Grant in Nigeria.
The minister said although Nigeria in the past recorded reduction in malaria burden and deaths, there was still much work to do to achieve a zero-burden status.
“Malaria remains a public health challenge. While Nigeria witnessed the largest reduction in malaria deaths in 2019, we must be mindful of other challenges posed by COVID-19 and work to mitigate the impact.
“We appreciate all the partners that have been working with us to achieve the desired goal.”
He also assured that the government would fulfill all grant conditions.
In the same vein, Mark Edington, the Divisional Head, Grant Management of Global Fund, who spoke via zoom, commended Nigeria for kick-starting the implementation of the malaria grant implementation.
He said that in recognition of the need for additional investment, the Global Fund is ready to provide more funds to continue supporting the response against the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said that the fund would shortly use the U.S. government’s contribution of 3.5 billion dollars to offer new funds to Nigeria to support PPE, community support, risk communication and logistics.
“We also encourage the malaria programme to include PPE and other adaptations needed to ensure that the malaria campaigns are implemented on time in spite of COVID-19.
“We should put risk mitigation in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19,’’ he added.
WHO Country Representative to Nigeria, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo appreciated the minister for organising the important event to launch the malaria specific component of the Global Fund Grant in Nigeria.
The country representative assured Nigeria of WHO’s unalloyed commitment to continuing partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health and all other partners through provision of technical support and guidance to implement the activities necessary to meet the national goals.
Mr Mulombo, represented by Dr Anne Eudes Jean Baptiste of WHO described the malaria vaccine as respite to children and pregnant women.
Mr Mulombo noted that Nigeria has made remarkable progress in malaria control, with a decline in prevalence from 42 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent in 2018.
He stressed that the country should not rest on its oars, as the World Malaria Report 2020, estimated that Nigeria alone accounted for 27 per cent (61million cases) of malaria cases, and ranked highest in the list of contributors to the global burden of the disease.
With malaria vaccine now available, the burden of malaria in Nigeria would be greatly reduced, if the country embraced vaccination early.
WHO recently recommended widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission.
The recommendation was based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that have reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, described the deployment of the vaccine as a “historic moment.”
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he said.
He added that malaria remained a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, noting that more than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
Dr Betta Edu, the Commissioner for Health in Cross River, has described the recommendation of malaria vaccine by WHO as “a positive step forward for the entire world.”
Ms Edu, who spoke in Calabar recently, said that malaria had killed many more people than HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 and other diseases.
She said that scientists have been searching for treatment and cure for malaria for many years, but have not been able to get a major breakthrough.
According to her, maternal mortality, especially in sub-saharan Africa is associated with malaria, causing deaths in children under five years.
She added that “getting a vaccine that can manage malaria is a blessing and we believe that after due diligence, at some point, Africa will have access to the vaccine.
“Once the vaccine is out and the Federal Government approves it and thereafter the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control does the pharmacovigilance on it, we will immediately begin the process of getting our people to know the benefit of it.
“We will also begin to carry out sensitisation at all levels, just as we have been doing on long lasting insecticide treated nets.
“Vaccine is a stronger form of prevention for malaria. If we have a vaccine, then we know that we are getting to the point where we can say goodbye to malaria.”
Also, Dr Janet Ekpenyong, the Director General of Cross River Primary Healthcare Development Agency, told NAN that the news of the vaccine recommendation
by WHO was “exciting.”
Ms Ekpenyong, who said that malaria had claimed millions of lives, added that “most health practitioners have just been doing reactive measures.
“This vaccine will go a long way to help us manage malaria proactively. It is a welcome idea, especially for us in the health sector.
“For us, we are excited that our children will no longer die of malaria and our pregnant women will be protected against malaria, which is one of the causes of maternal mortality.”
Dr Abubakar Kaka-Sanda, the Borno branch President of Nigeria Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), also lauded the announcement of the malaria vaccine by WHO, which he described as a welcome development.
Mr Kaka-Sanda who spoke in Maiduguri, said that “a vaccine against malaria known as a killer disease with high mortality, particularly among children in Africa is something worth celebrating.”
He, therefore, urged states and federal governments to start early mobilisation of the public on the vaccine to address the issue of vaccine phobia.
He said “the government needs to start early public enlightenment on the vaccine so that whenever it is available, there will be no issue of phobia.”
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