That Malaria has been an endemic disease plaguing the entire sub-Saharan Africa including Nigeria definitely will not make headline news now. However, its impact is significant enough to be currently viewed as a Global Health issue. Hence the huge global attention from various stakeholders on Malaria giving rise to 25th of April being a dedicated day that is annually recognized as the WORLD MALARIA DAY and malaria is unsurprisingly a core focus area for many international agencies.
Ever so often, there is the occasional onslaught of media attention and accompanying buzz about the malaria statistics which are always in the millions (both in dollars and deaths) –as a friend once said, “the shear humongous figures are probably only fit for the newspapers”. Let’s bring this into local context here as I share a tiny bit of the highlights of our malaria numbers in Nigeria.
Although Nigeria has generally made considerable progress towards ameliorating the effects of malaria, our official statistics says Malaria still currently accounts for:
- 60% of all our hospital presentations
- 30% of childhood deaths and
- 11% of maternal deaths in Nigeria
#NIGERIANS: REAL PEOPLE, EVERYDAY LIFE
To a vast majority of Nigerians it is kini big deal with malaria sef? The everyday regularity of having malaria makes it seem like a natural component of living in this part of the world. Everybody “knows” what signs and symptoms constitutes a malaria infection and it is common place to simply take a stroll to a nearby chemist to buy medication to treat malaria… (that is, for as many that believe in orthodox medications).
For an average Nigerian man on the street, he probably just knows that malaria is common in this part of the world and believes there is little or nothing that he can do about it anyway. For all he cares, once he thinks he has a fever then it has got to be malaria yet again. It’s probably not a big deal to stand outside his balcony and call out to the hawker peddling countable tablets on his street rather than waste extra change on purchasing a full sachet of anti-malarial medications that he will not finish anyway. What’s more to being more proactive about his health; he most likely randomly takes some un-prescribed drug every month to ‘prevent’ Malaria. Even though he may have lost a close family relative to Malaria, he reckons it as just a sad event that should be attributed to government and our failing Naija healthcare system. He cannot or will not draw the lines between dirt and blocked gutters in His compound which is the official breeding ground for Mosquito and the malaria problem. Neither does he bother sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net as it is an inconvenience, the heat and all (even though it was given to him for free!).
WHAT IT MEANS FOR NIGERIANS TO GET ON THE DRIVER’S SEAT!
Although these attitudinal issues are a huge challenge, they are definitely not the only problem.
The overarching imprint of misconceptions, traditional beliefs and gross ignorance on health matters generally in Nigeria and really, across Sub-Saharan Africa also constitutes a major challenge in the malaria issue as well as our general health challenges. As a doctor, I have come to observe that this challenge cuts across our entire social strata contrary to the traditional thinking that it is peculiar to the lower income populace.
I am firmly of the opinion that automatically lumping health ignorance as being a sole problem of the lower socio-economic class of Nigerians is nothing short of being blind-sided because for starters, being unaware of a health issue does not insinuate unintelligence. However this does not negate the fact that literacy does improve a person’s ability to access and utilize available health information.
These malaria rhetoric simply points to the fact that more work is needed in order to effectively “Roll-Back on Malaria” and while this obviously requires the concerted efforts of all stakeholders from the public, private, third sectors and international agencies, there is a prime space for us as individuals to take a lead role by taking deliberate steps towards achieving the goal of eradicating malaria as we consciously live a disease-free healthy lifestyle. This forms the basis for our work at Health And Life Africa Healthy-living Initiative (HALA). We believe that the more informed people are on healthy lifestyles, the less likely it is for them to fall ill. And taking it a step further, we like to say that providing accurate health information for Africans is one of the most cost effective solutions to ameliorate Africa’s healthcare challenges.
Of course there comes the case for poverty as the sole perpetuator of ill-health but yet at the very basic level of everyday life, this very argument does falls short in many preventable real life scenarios. For instance, what is the logical explanation as to why a 4 years old child with a burning fever for over 2 days is not taken to a nearby health facility until many days later when the primary care-giver finally rushes into an emergency room with the child in coma? (This is a typical scenario that litters most hospitals’ cases of Cerebral Malaria). When push comes to shove, issues that pattens to our health seem to be left to chance… or really, are often a lesser choice in an opportunity cost. I say opportunity cost because in the long run, we can’t escape the adage that “prevention is better than care” and evidently, early hospital visits are cheaper than awaiting late disease complications.
It is unrealistic to assume that there is a one-shoe-fit all size solution to Africa’s healthcare challenges because their causes are multi-factorial. This is sole reason for this new HALA Social Intelligence program which is essentially an intellectual platform to engage key stakeholders across Nigeria & Africa’s healthcare space to stir deep conversations by top level managers, government officials, experts, social entrepreneurs, innovators and other change-makers. This maiden edition is on malaria as HALA’s contribution in this year’s commemoration of the World Malaria Day. We encourage you to share your views as comments or join the conversation on Twitter using the #HALAsi hashtag.
Considering the fact that the fight against Malaria (which earned its name from MAL-AIRA as it was wrongly attributed to an infection caused by bad air upon its discovery), we have come a very long way today. We now know that Malaria is not only treatable, but that it is Preventable.