By Joyce Remi- Babayeju
The National Malaria Elimination Programme, NMEP, has warned that Nigeria may likely record high rate of malaria related deaths if authorities allow COVID-19 to disrupt treatment of patients down with malaria fever in the country.
National Coordinator of NMEP, Dr. Audu Bala Mohammed at the 1st 2020 Bi- annual Media Chat to mark this year’s World Malaria Day gave a warning that the hype in COVID-19 reported cases may become in stumbling block in the treatment of malaria patients because COVID-19 entry symptoms are same as those of malaria.
The NMEP Coordinator said, “Recent projections suggest that where most prevention activities are cancelled or delayed, and malaria services like insecticide – related net campaigns and access to malarial medicines experience severe disruption then malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan African could double by end of this year” and this also implies to Nigeria.
“It is therefore critical that Nigeria and other malaria –endemic countries minimize any disruptions of malaria prevention and treatment during COVID-19 response given that failure to do so could lead to catastrophic loss of life.”
To mitigate high malarial reported deaths in Nigeria, Mohammed said, “ for us we intend to ensure access to and use of Insecticide Treated Nets, ITNs, are maintained through campaigns that are adapted to protect health workers and communities from COVID-19. We also intend to continue case management of malaria, including prompt diagnostic testing and treatment, delivered safely and appropriately.”
The NMEP boss explained that a recent outcome from Global Funds survey shows that malaria and other key services are being disrupted in many countries due to lockdowns, clients not seeking health services as usual and COVID-19 related stigma.
He called on Nigerians to take necessary preventive measures to avoid getting sick with malaria such as sleeping inside the net every night, having screens on doors and windows, pregnant women uptake of preventive medicines at regular intervals during pregnancy, and ensuring children below 5 years in the Sahelian region are brought out to have preventive medicines during the SMC campaigns.
Deputy Director / Head, Integrated Vector Management of NMEP, Philip Okoko said that the agency is rolling out about 17 million mosquito net distribution in Adamawa, Osun, Kwara, Oyo, Benue, Plateau and Zamfara States.
Okoko said, It’s a universal coverage, irrespective of social status, class or location. One net goes to two persons in one household.”
During a presentation titled, “Improving and sustaining access to malaria interventions while dealing with COVID-19 related stigma and fear, Professor Olugbenga Mokuolu, the Technical Director NEMP at recent Media Chat in Abuja, said that COVID-19 is a challenge to everyone which comes with stigma.
Speaking on the stigma associated with COVID-19 locally, Mokuolu said that it drives people to hide the illness to avoid discrimination, prevents people from seeking health care immediately and discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours and could even cause risk of mental breakdown in event of isolation, loneliness and even fear of death.
He however said that direct impact of COVID-19 on malaria intervention on individuals include stigma , tread of infection in hospitals , delay in seeking care refusing some care and seeking care in wrong places and despair.
While at the health facilities, it includes depleted workforce or neglect of patients and interruption in services and supply chain systems.
According to Professor Mokuolu the way out for the country is for government to embark on key malaria interventions such as rolling out mass campaign on Long Lasting Insecticide Nets, LLINs, across the country, and ensure seasonal malaria prevention exercise including preventive packages for pregnant women.