Malaria: Fighting life-threatening diseases for healthy citizens, by Aishat M. Abisola

Aishat M. Abisola

FIRS

In Nigeria, whenever a person falls ill or when a sign of illness occurs, people instantly assume and associate the cause of illness with malaria. It is very common among Nigerians. But why should malaria be the first option that comes to mind?

Thinking back, when I was a kid I got sick very often and unsurprisingly, everyone’s first thought was that I had contracted malaria. Of course, the place where I lived then had a lot of mosquitoes, so it was not absurd that other people would easily believe and say that I had malaria.

most of the times i got sick it was due to malaria, however, on several occasions it was only a brief mild illness that could be treated with no problem.

Surprisingly, I never bothered to think about this assumption in order to understand why it is like that. But thanks to the World Malaria Day which was celebrated recently, I was able to gather my thoughts to understand the whole hypothesis.

World Malaria Day has been celebrated on April 25 every year since its institution in 2007 by WHO member states during the World Health Assembly. This day gives the world the opportunity to take a close look at areas that require continued investment and commitment to malaria prevention and control. The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is “Harnessing innovation to reduce the burden of malaria and save lives”.

In today’s society, unfortunately, there is no tool or medicine that could be used to completely get rid of malaria. As such, there is a need for innovations and investments that will provide methods, antimalarial drugs and other tools that will help accelerate the fight against malaria. Despite all this, much of the world still suffers from this disease.

As someone living in an African country that suffers such a fate, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not support or appreciate the work and assistance that the World Health Organization made to ensure that, globally, malaria is completely eradicated.

When talking about malaria, it is best to start with the definition. According to research and studies, malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by plasmodium parasites that originate from the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. To be more specific, there are 5 species of parasites known to cause malaria in humans. I learned that 2 of these parasites, P. falciparum and P. vivax, were the most threatening to humans. The articles I read said that P. falciparum is the deadliest and most prevalent malaria parasite in Africa, while P. vivax is the most dominant parasite in countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Although malaria may not seem treatable or preventable, it could be. Nonetheless, it still has a life-changing impact on the health and lives of people around the world. Some countries have the tools to diagnose malaria in the early stages and control it while many countries lack the resources needed for effective malaria screening. In some places, early diagnosis can help treat and control malaria. However, many countries lack the resources to perform such effective screening.

In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million cases of malaria worldwide and 627,000 deaths from the disease, meaning almost half of the world’s population was affected. Meanwhile, there were 14 million more cases in 2020 compared to 2019 and 69,000 more deaths. An estimated 47,000 of these additional deaths were linked to disruptions in malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.

In 2021, the first-ever malaria vaccine, called RTS,S (Mosquirix), gained WHO approval. The fact is that the vaccine is not intended for travelers and is only available to children living in certain regions of Africa. For travelers, there are pills that are available to help prevent any infection.

If you know what you are looking for, it is very easy to find the symptoms of malaria. If you don’t watch closely, you can mistake malaria for the flu or a fever. For uncomplicated malaria, you should watch out for: fever and chills, sweating, headache, nausea and vomiting, body aches, weakness, mild jaundice, which can cause the eyes to turn yellow, increased breathing rate.

Severe malaria is a life-threatening medical emergency where every organ in your body is at risk. Symptoms of severe malaria are: severe anemia, presence of blood in the urine, changes in blood clotting, disturbances in consciousness, changes in behavior, high acidity of blood and body fluids, convulsions and coma. Severe malaria is the deadliest type of malaria and can lead to cerebral malaria which occurs when parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels in the brain and cause swelling or damage to the brain.

Going back to the beginning, some forms of plasmodia can cause a person to have a relapse of malaria, but if they can get early treatment and diagnosis, the same treatment can be used again if there is a relapse.

If someone received early treatment, they could make a full recovery. Current treatment methods for malaria include: drugs to remove the parasite from the bloodstream, hospitalization for those with severe symptoms, and intensive care in some cases.

According to the basic knowledge, medication is the most used method, but most of the type of medication, its factors are highly dependent on a few things: the plasmodium that triggered the disease, the severity of the symptoms, the place where the person has had malaria, has taken anti-malarial drugs before, and is pregnant. Also, one important thing I noticed is that people with complications might need a series of drug combinations to survive.

The duration of treatment for malaria is 2 days. In addition to all this, there is a malaria vaccine that is made available to children in Africa.

My research on malaria treatment methods has enlightened me on the main types of antimalarials which are: chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, primaquine, artemisinin therapy, atovaquone-proguanil.

In Nigeria, although there are many ways to effectively treat and diagnose malaria, these methods are barely helpful in preventing the spread and easily averting deaths. Everywhere I look there are mosquitoes and I feel like nothing is being done for them.

Campaigns have been put in place and are still ongoing so that people, especially those in indigenous areas, can have clean environments to live in as well as peace of mind. Areas where mosquitoes are known to breed are only cleaned to return to their former state.

In my opinion, to deal with this situation, we must deal with it at the root. Indigenous peoples should be educated about the creature that causes malaria, how it does it, where it breeds, and how to prevent it from harming them. They need to be shown that there is a way to get rid of this threat for good, but it can only be done with their cooperation.

Mosquito nets should be distributed to people and perhaps a regulation should be passed that every household must have at least 2 mosquito nets in their house to prevent further infection. Mosquito repellents are a necessity and as such their prices, as well as the prices of mosquito nets, should be lowered so that they can be easily affordable and accessible.

I also think there should be more campaigns emphasizing the need to stop this disease. Whenever it is mentioned that millions of people, especially children, are dying because of a particular thing, everyone in the world is ready to put an end to it. As shameful as it sounds, this fact needs to be leveraged to get people 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 received a loan from the World Bank this week for the malaria intervention. It would be heartwarming and inspiring to see that the Nigerian government is doing its best to ensure that its citizens are free from this scourge of a disease.

To quote TR Reid, “For mass disease prevention, mass education is a key weapon.” If the Nigerian people, especially those at the grassroots, are not properly informed of this threat, how can we hope to end it without losing more lives? We can’t help anyone if we don’t help ourselves first. I only hope that in the near future, this dark spot in the lives of many Nigerians, Africans will be washed away without even a small stain.

Aishat M. Abisola writes from Wuye District, Abuja [email protected]

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