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Malaria Elimination: Africa sub-region, off-track to achieving 2030 targets

 Matshidiso Moeti Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation(WHO) Regional Director, Africa (AFRO) Region

Sat, 14 May 2022 Source: GNA

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation(WHO) Regional Director, Africa (AFRO) Region, has urged sub-Saharan countries to intensify efforts towards achieving the malaria elimination targets by 2030.

She said despite the progress made, by the end of 2020 the WHO AFRO region sadly still accounted for 96 per cent of global malaria deaths and 95 per cent of cases.

Dr Moeti indicated that the sub-region was off-track to reaching the 2030 malaria control targets of 90 per cent reduction in malaria incidence and mortality rate compared to the 2015 baseline, despite the progress made by the end of 2020.

She admitted that while COVID-19 disrupted routine health service delivery and contributed to increased malaria cases and deaths, evidence of stalled progress preceded the pandemic.

Dr Moeti gave the advice in a speech read on her behalf, at the Fourth Ministerial Forum of the Sahel Malaria Elimination (SaME) Initiative, organised by the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) and its partners in Accra, to share knowledge and strengthen efforts towards achieving the 2030 targets.

The Regional Director said the COVID-19 pandemic had shown that effective intersectoral collaboration and strong leadership on health were critical to success, and called for the establishment of sub-regional networks of public research institutions, to assist countries in translational local malaria research, and implementation of programmes.

She explained that although many of such partnerships existed between countries within the sub-region, they were fragmented across disease programmes.

She acknowledged the tremendous contributions by SaME countries working in partnership with most affected communities and ensuring sub-regional collaborations, leading to extraordinary progress in the fight against malaria in the WHO AFRA region.

She said through the resolve, solidarity, investments and inspiring efforts of malaria-endemic countries, a 27 per cent reduction in disease incidence, and 49 per cent drop in related deaths were recorded between 2000 and 2020, which also accounted for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the period, 1.7 billion cases and 10.6 million deaths were also averted globally, out of which 82 per cent of the cases averted, and 95 per cent of the lives saved, were from WHO Africa Region, she said.

Dr Moeti further mentioned key interventions, including the improvement in the distribution of nearly two million Insecticide Treated bed Nets (ITN), about three billion artemisinin combination therapies, and rapid diagnostic tests in the region.

Again, more than 33 million children under five years of age most of whom lived within the Sahel region, received seasonal malaria chemoprevention treatment, and the RTS, S malaria vaccine, was administered in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi with about one million children vaccinated in the pilot countries.

She said the subsequent WHO recommendation released in October 2021 had the door for the broader use in moderate to high transmission areas.

Dr Moeti said reasons for the low performance of the sub-region were varied and country specific, such as the high overall population growth rate since 2000, inadequate external and domestic funding of malaria, which had remained at the same levels since 2012.

The threat of insecticide resistance, she said was contending with the emergence of Plasmodium Falciparum parasite gene deletions, rendering rapid diagnostic tests incapable of detecting parasites, increasing false negative malaria tests, and cautioned that the consequence was a possible rise in severe malaria cases and deaths.

She urged those countries to effectively involve and empower households and communities to play active roles in the fight against the disease.

“As WHO in Africa, we recognise that a whole-of-society approach requires us to listen and learn from those who are worst impacted. We must aim to leverage these resources and focus on more integrated, locally-tailored people-centered response,” she said.

Mr Anthony Okara, the Special Ambassador, representing the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), admitted that despite the remarkable progress, the Sahel region still carries a heavy burden of the disease, and accounted for nearly one third of all malaria cases and deaths globally.

He said an estimated 14 million more malaria cases and 47,000 more deaths occurred in 2020 due to disruptions to services during the COVID-19 pandemic, but argued that things could have been far worse if not for the efforts of malaria endemic countries to maintain services, and “we avoided the doubling in cases predicted by WHO”.

Mr Okara gave a brief background to the establishment of the SaME in 2018, to accelerate efforts towards malaria elimination in the Sahel region by 2030, involving eight countries; Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, the Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad.

He said significant progress through accelerated cross-border collaboration, development of the malaria scorecards for accountability and action to strengthen regional coordination, monitoring, research, quality control and policy harmonization had been made.

These must be further strengthened for better synergy for effective resource mobilisation, addressing antimalarial and insecticides resistance, synchronised implementation of planned activities of targeted interventions such as Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention, Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), and Insecticide Treated Bed Net (ITN) mass campaigns, and also the use of country-regional malaria scorecard for accountability and action.

ALMA, which was chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta had also advanced in its efforts, and was keen to see the ultimate goal of malaria elimination realised in the Sahel region and around the world.

He urged malaria-endemic countries to remain focused on control efforts in addition to efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, to save more lives, particularly those of children under five, who made up more than two-thirds of all malaria deaths.

Source: GNA