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Interview: Funding alone not enough to eradicate malaria in Nigeria: expert

Xinhua, April 24, 2017 Adjust font size:

Committing huge funds to the fight against malaria may not be enough to eradicate the scourge in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, which bears a huge part of the global malaria burden every year, a senior local health worker has said.

To eradicate malaria, the government of the west African country and its citizens need to work together to make their environment healthier and not just rely on treatment, Okechukwu Ezekwesili, the Head of Department at the Anti-malaria Center and Laboratory of the China-Nigeria Friendship Hospital in Abuja, told Xinhua in an interview, ahead of the annual World Malaria Day on April 25.

"Malaria, as we know, is caused by mosquito bites. The issue of malaria is not just about having the proper or adequate drugs for treatment. The basic thing to do is to ensure a proper, well-kept and neater environment," said Ezekwesili, who has been involved in the diagnosing of malaria in patients for more than three decades.

The expert said dirty environments, which serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- the malaria vectors, must first be cleared off before paving the way for the eradication of malaria.

"If that is done, then 50 percent of the malaria epidemic will be solved," he posited.

The theme of this year's World Malaria Day, given by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "End Malaria for Good."

"We cannot win the war against malaria if the environment is not what it should be because that is where you must start from. But when around you, there are refuse dump sites, blocked drainages and sewages, you are creating more breeding grounds for mosquitoes which cause malaria," said Ezekwesili.

He noted though funding is an important issue when it comes to malaria care, nothing can be achieved even if a billion dollars are injected into the healthcare system but the breeding ground of the malaria vectors is not totally eradicated.

"Patients stand the risk of reinfection, even after treatment, if the mosquito breeding grounds are not destroyed," he said.

Despite budgeting billions of U.S. dollars to combat malaria annually in Nigeria, it is estimated that it kills more than 300,000 citizens, mostly children, of the west African nation each year, according to the Health Ministry.

Data from the Nigerian government shows that country alone contributes 23 percent of the global malaria cases.

With an estimated 100 million malaria cases in the country every year, 97 percent of Nigeria's population is at risk of the viral disease while the remaining 3 percent of the population live in the malaria-free highlands.

Ezekwesili, who has been to China twice to attend malaria control seminars for public health personnel, said the high rate of infection can be curtailed if Nigeria can take a cue from the way China and some developed countries have stepped up the fight against malaria, which is a serious tropical disease spread by the female Anopheles mosquitoes.

According to the expert, considering its large population, China has done a great job in controlling malaria spread by wiping out the mosquitoes in virtually all the regions.

"China and Nigeria can collaborate in the areas of research on malaria treatment and control. Nigeria needs the Chinese expertise in these areas a lot, considering the dangerous effects it has on pregnant women and newborn babies," the expert said.

"A well-equipped malaria center is very much needed in Nigeria, where there will be experts in everything about malaria from both China and Nigeria, and constant research and training will be ongoing at the center.

"If this is done, different hospitals around the country can bring in samples to the defined malaria center and it can be properly analyzed and sampled," he added.

The Nigerian government has initiated the "Roll Back Malaria" program, a national campaign aimed at controlling the spread of malaria, especially among women and children. Many specialists from WHO have lended support to the program. Endit