Even amid Covid-19 pandemic, war against malaria should not falter

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director, WHO AFRO [Photo/Elvis Ogina]

World Malaria Day will be celebrated on April 25. This years theme is ‘Zero malaria - draw the line against malaria’.

This is the right time to draw the line against malaria by taking action to end the disease, especially now that Covid-19 has made the fight harder.

On this day, we highlight and appreciate the efforts that have been made over the years to control malaria and celebrate the gains so far.

According to the World Health Organisation’s World Malaria Report 2020, 7.6 million malaria-related deaths have been averted since 2000. The Ministry of Health has shown commitment towards eliminating malaria.

In February this year, the Malaria Council was formed to mobilise local resources for malaria control and elimination in Kenya. 

There has been intense work in vector control through the distribution of long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, larval source management, prevention of malaria in pregnancy; malaria diagnosis, and treatment; monitoring, evaluation, and research as well as work to encourage behavior change.

The Ministry of Health is implementing the Kenya Malaria Strategy 2019 – 2023 that aims to protect all Kenyans through access to malaria preventive interventions, to manage all suspected malaria cases and to establish systems for malaria elimination in targeted counties.

Covid-19 has complicated the fight to end malaria by causing disruptions to essential malaria services. Initial messaging that aimed to reduce coronavirus transmission advised the public to stay at home if they had fever, potentially disrupting treatment for those who may have had malaria and needed treatment.

The lockdowns slowed down malaria-prevention programmes such as the distribution of mosquito nets. This disruption to malaria-prevention and treatment is leading to an increase in malaria-related deaths. The fight against malaria must remain a priority. 

It is time for rigorous efforts to protect everyone who is at risk of malaria and to guard the tremendous strides made in fighting the disease.

This calls for high impact investments in education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, including research and development and building stronger health systems.

To achieve this, there is need for more funding and increased innovation. 

Social and gender norms that present barriers to accessing healthcare, especially among poor and vulnerable women who are often primary caregivers, should be addressed.

The commendable efforts to beat Covid-19 must not be at the expense of accelerating progress against malaria. 

Critically, malaria programmes must be integrated with broader efforts to build stronger systems for health, which are anchored on established community health systems.

Further, ending endemic diseases such as malaria will contribute to strengthening fragile health systems and beating pandemics like Covid-19 because ending malaria will reduce the burden on health systems and increase capacity to detect, prevent, and respond to pandemics.

Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by Covid-19, malaria elimination remains a viable goal that will contribute to achieving universal healthcare coverage so that everybody has access to efficient, effective and affordable healthcare.

Malaria elimination is possible. Zero malaria is within reach.