Malaria: Tackling Life-threatening Disease for Healthy Citizenry, by Aishat M. Abisola
In Nigeria, whenever a person falls sick or when a sign of sickness manifested people often assume and instantly relate the cause of sickness with Malaria. This is very common amongst Nigerians. But why should malaria be the first option that comes to mind?
Come to think of it, When I was a child, I used to get sick very often and unsurprisingly, everyone’s first thought was that I had contracted Malaria. Ofcourse, the place where I lived then had a lot of mosquitos and therefore it was not absurd for other people to easily to believe and say that I had malaria.
in most of the times I fell sick it was because of malaria, however, in several times it was just a brief and mild illness that could be treated without any fuss.
Surprisingly, I never cared to ponder on this assumption in order to understand why it is like that. But thanks to the World Malaria Day that was celebrated recently, I was able to gathered my thoughts into understanding the whole assumption.
World Malaria Day is celebrated on the 25th of April every year since its institution in 2007 by the WHO Member States at the World Health Assembly. This day gives the world the opportunity to be able look closely into areas that needs continuous investment and commitment for the prevention and control of malaria. The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is, “Harness innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden and save lives”.
In today’s society, there is, unfortunately, no tool or medication that could be use to completely get rid of Malaria. As such, there is a need for innovations and investment that will bring methods, antimalarial medication and other tools that will help speed up the fight against malaria. Despite all this, a large part of the world still suffers from this disease.
As a person living in an African country that suffers from such a plight, I would be hard-pressed to find someone who does not support or appreciate the work and assistance which the World Health Organisation has been rendering to make sure that, globally, malaria is completely eradicated.
When one talks about malaria, it would be best to start with the definition. According to research and studies, malaria is a life threatening illness that is caused by plasmodium parasites which come from the bite of an infected anopheles female mosquito. To be more precise, there are 5 parasite species that are known to cause malaria in humans. I learnt that 2 of these parasites, P. falciparum and P. vivax, were the most threatening to humans. The articles that I read, said that P. falciparum is the deadliest and is the most common malaria parasite in Africa while P. vivax is the most dominant parasite in countries that are outside of sub-saharan Africa.
Although, Malaria might not seem treatable or preventable but it could be. Nonetheless, it still has an upsetting impact on the health and lives of people globally. Some countries have the necessary tools to diagnose malaria in the early stages and control it while many countries lack the necessary resources needed for effective malaria screening. In some places, early diagnosis can help treat and control malaria. However, many countries lack the resources to carry out such effective screening.
In the year 2020, there were approximately 241 million malaria cases globally and 627,000 deaths due to the disease, meaning that almost half of the world’s population was affected. Meanwhile, there were 14 million more cases in 2020 as compared to 2019, and 69 000 more deaths. An estimated 47.000 of these additional deaths were connected to disturbances in malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.
In 2021, the first ever antimalaria vaccine, called RTS,S (Mosquirix), got an approval from the WHO. The thing is that the vaccine is not for travellers to use by and is only made available for children living in certain parts of Africa. For travellers, there are pills that are available to help them prevent any infections.
If you know what you are looking for, it is very easy to find the symptoms of malaria. If you do not keep a close eye, you can mistake malaria for a flu or fever. For uncomplicated malaria, you need to look out for: fever and chills, sweating, headaches, nausea and vomiting, body aches, weakness, mild jaundice, which can cause the eyes to appear yellow, a higher breathing rate.
Severe malaria is a life threatening medical emergency where all the organs in your body are at risk. The symptom of severe malaria are: severe anemia, blood in the urine, changes in blood clotting, impaired consciousness, changes in behavior, high acidity in the blood and body fluids, seizures, and a coma. Severe malaria is the most fatal kindof malaria and can lead to cerebral malaria which happens when parasite-filled blood cells block the small blood vessels to the brain and cause swelling or brain damage.
Circling back to the beginning, some forms of plasmodiums can cause malaria to relapse in a person but if they can get early treatment and diagnosis, the same treatment can be used again in the event of a relapse.
If someone were to get early treatment, they would be able to make a full recovery. The current treatment methods for malaria are: medication to remove the parasite from the bloodstream, hospitalization for those who have severe symptoms and intensive care, in some cases.
From basic knowledge, medication is the most used method but most of the type of medication its factors are heavily on a few things: the plasmodium that kickstarted the disease, the severity of the symptoms, the location of where the person caught malaria, if they have taken any antmalarial drugs before and if the person is pregnant. Also, an important thing that I noticed is that people with complications could need a series of combinations of medications to survive.
The time period for the malaria treatment is 2 days. In addition to all these, there is a malaria vaccine that is made available for children in Africa.
My research into the treatment methods for malaria enlightened me on the main types of antimalarial drugs which are: chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, primaquine, artemisinin-based therapy, atovaquone-proguanil.
In Nigeria, although there are many ways to treat and diagnose malaria effectively, these methods are barely even useful to prevent the spread as well as to easily avoid deaths. Everywhere I look, there are mosquitoes and it feels like nothing is being done about them.
Campaigns have been put in place and still running so that people, especially those in the indigenous areas, would be able to have clean environments to live as well as a peace of mind. Areas where mosquitoes are known to breed are cleaned up only to be reverted back to the way it was before.
In my own opinion, in order to deal with this situation, we need to deal with it from the root. Indigenous people should be taught about the creature that causes malaria, how it does it, where it breeds and how to prevent it from harming them. They should be shown that there is a way to get rid of this menace permanently but that it can only be done with their cooperation.
Mosquito nets should be given to the people and a regulation should perhaps be passed that every household needs to have at least 2 mosquito nets in their home to prevent any further infections. Mosquito repellents are a necessity and as such, their prices, along with the prices of mosquito nets, should be lowered so that they can be easily affordable and accessible.
I also think that there should be more campaigns highlighting the need for this disease to be stopped. Whenever it is mentioned that millions of people, especially children, are dying due to a particular thing, everyone around the globe is willing to put an end to it. As shameful as this sounds, this fact needs to be taken advantage of for people to in this country to open their eyes and do something about malaria.
The government, I believe, should or rather be proactive about the situation as they were given a loan by the World Bank this week for malaria intervenyion. It would be heartwarming and inspiring to see that the Nigerian government is trying its hardest to make sure that its citizens are free from this scourge of a disease.
To quote T.R. Reid, “For the mass prevention of disease, mass education is a key weapon”. If the people of Nigeria, especially those at the grass roots, are not properly informed about this menace, how can we hope to end it without the loss of anymore lives? We cannot help anyone if we do not help ourselves first. I only hope that in the near future, this dark spot on the lives of many Nigerians, Africans, will be washed away with not even a tiny spot left.
Aishat M. Abisola writes from Wuye District, Abuja [email protected]