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Why beating malaria must be prioritised while bracing for next pandemic

…as $4bn Global Fund secured for malaria fight

As global health debate begins to shift towards strengthening protection against the next pandemic, calls for a renewed effort to finish the fight against one of the oldest epidemic, malaria, are also rising.

Leaders of global and national healthcare interventions are asking that the response to COVID-19 be used as a catalyst to rethink the approach towards malaria, a disease that kills over 400, 000 people yearly across the world.

Peter Sanders, executive director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria on Thursday said the tools needed to prepare and responded to any new pandemic are largely the same as required to defeat malaria.

Some of these capabilities he identified are structured primary healthcare, rapid diagnostics, genomic sequencing, disease surveillance supply chains that ensure essential medicines get down to the very last mile.

“So rather than predicate all the effort to make us better prepared for a pandemic, I will argue that we should build capabilities to beat a disease that is costing lives so we can simultaneously make the world better protected against future pandemics and save millions,” Sanders said, speaking during a virtual conference by Corporate Alliance for Malaria in Africa (CAMA) on combating malaria in Africa.

The Global Fund director equally stressed the need for the private sector to step up effort in bringing skills and capability to help the fight.

COVID-19 was the basis of understanding the economic impact of infectious diseases, a downside which Sanders argues could turn into an upside, if malaria is also viewed from the economic point.

If malaria is eliminated from a community, they could become economically more productive, impacting tourism, agricultural productivity and educational activities among others.

The Global Fund on its part increased malaria grants by 23 percent on average in January, pouring about $4 billion dollars in for the next few years, Sanders said.

This comes as an addition to its COVID-19 response mechanism providing at least $3.7 billion funding to help countries respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the impact on HIV, TB, Malaria and to fix health systems. Nigeria’s malaria prevalence 15 percent lower

While Malaria remains a disease of public health threat, Alex Okoh, director of public health representing the minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, noted that the prevalence in Nigeria has declined 23 percent in 2020 from 42 percent in 2010.

However, it still tops the causes of morbidity and mortality as Nigeria accounts for 27 percent of the global malaria cases and 23 percent of global malaria deaths based on data from the World Malaria Report 2020.

To improve the trajectory; she said the government has to developed a business continuity plan to ensure that implementation processes align with current global practices in containing the spread of COVID-19.

Also in the next five years, the government aims to reduce malaria prevalence to a parasite prevalence of less than 10 people and mortality attributable to malaria to less than 50 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2025 as reflected in the new malaria strategic plan 2021 to 2025.

The direct and indirect cost associated with malaria including lost workdays due to illness or care for sick family members reduces productivity, with the cost of healthcare claiming up to 32 percent of annual household income, Okoh explained citing a 1992 study.

“I call on communities, private sector individuals and governments in Africa to play very definitive roles in ensuring significant changes in the malaria situation in our country and the continent,” she said.

“The theme of this year’s World Malaria Day celebration is on empowering various communities across various countries to take ownership of preventing malaria and ensuring adherence to diagnosis and treatment guidelines.”

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