Kenya has made progress in her efforts to become a malaria-free nation. Between 2010 to 2020, the country reduced the prevalence of malaria by nearly 50 per cent. The gains came via the concerted efforts of the government, partners, communities, and the strategic implementation of lifesaving tools, including the progressive scaling-up of various interventions like insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying with insecticides, and appropriate diagnosis and treatment using artemisinin-based combination therapies.
However, malaria still remains one of the top 10 causes of death in Kenya, and a leading killer of children under five years. About 70 per cent of the population is at risk of malaria, including 13 million people in endemic areas and another 19 million in highland epidemic prone and seasonal transmission areas. Kenya had 3.4 million malaria cases in 2021, presenting a significant health burden for the country with approximately 15 per cent of all non-admitted hospital visits being due to malaria.
Overall, WHO statistics indicate more than 12,000 deaths in 2021. The counties that have been affected by malaria include Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma and Vihiga, which are classified as having lake endemic malaria transmission. Other counties, including Kisii, Nyamira and Kericho are considered to have high risk of malaria infection. On the other hand, several ‘malaria elimination’ counties such as Nyeri, Kirinyaga and Nyandarua have consistently recorded very low incidences of malaria.
Malaria has imposed substantial economic costs, jeopardising the achievement of sustainable development goals. It contributes to school absences and can contribute to challenges with memory and attention in school children. Malaria has been identified as a leading cause of worker absenteeism, yet it is preventable and treatable. Prioritising malaria prevention and control measures at county level is critical if the national vision for zero malaria is to be realised. It is encouraging to note that this issue was been discussed during the health segment of the 8th Devolution Conference in Eldoret.
With the goal to reach a malaria-free Kenya, the fight against the disease is at an important juncture. Threats to malaria control mean continued focus and availability of resources required to accelerate progress. The threats that must be overcome include malaria parasite resistance and mutation, mosquitoes becoming increasingly resistant to insecticides, new and invasive species of mosquito such as the Anopheles Stephensi mosquito in Marsabit County. Furthermore, changing temperatures, longer rainy seasons and moving populations will make malaria more unpredictable, hitting vulnerable populations the hardest.
As we approach the Africa Climate Summit that will take place in Nairobi in September, our hope is that malaria will also be a topic of discussion at the key national and regional moment. Significantly, the financial sustainability plan aims to help Kenya close the approximate Sh24 billion funding gaps to achieve its goal. There is a need to reinvigorate the malaria fight, and this requires financial support and political will. Efforts that are geared towards lowering malaria transmission will lead to better health outcomes, enhanced productivity, decreased healthcare expenses, and economic growth.
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Investing in malaria prevention will lead to a stronger health infrastructure, such as expanded community health worker programmes, digital tools to monitor and detect the disease, and supply chains through the development of local manufacturing facilities. Additionally, optimising the delivery of malaria interventions will be essential to achieving primary healthcare and universal health coverage.