Malaria rates plunge in The Gambia

By Awa B. Bah

According to a news release, the CRS and local partners including the Government of the Gambia have reached a ground breaking milestone in the continued fight against malaria.

Through international investment and a strong countrywide campaign, The Gambia is now seeing a very significant drop in the prevalence of malaria and new infections of the disease. With a prevalence of only 0.2 percent, the country now has a clear path to no new cases of malaria by the year 2020.

“We are proud that The Gambia has made major strides in its fight against malaria,” said Ms. Saffie Lowe Ceesay, the Gambia’s Health Minister.

Ms. Lowe Ceesay indicated that with the ongoing support of the international community, elimination of the disease is now within sight, and this is a first for sub-Saharan African country.

In 2015, there were approximately 212 million cases of malaria worldwide. Nearly half a million people died, most of whom were children.

Annemarie Reilly, CRS Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President of Strategic Organizational Development, highlighted that now is not the time to stop or even slow down their work, knowing that the last mile will be the hardest because the disease can come back.

In the Gambia, all the major stakeholders called for more international investment to be able to fully eradicate the disease.

Recently, government hosted an event alongside the U.S. Embassy, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, to celebrate this momentous achievement. The event highlighted the landmark achievements in the fight against malaria in the Gambia including decrease in parasitic prevalence from 4 percent in 2010 to 0.2 percent in 2014; that malaria infections fell by 50 percent across all regions of The Gambia, between 2011 and 2016.

The use of advanced technology also allowed for higher quality control, to give more advanced data.

With support from The Global Fund, the Gambia government and CRS are continuing a long-standing commitment to eliminate malaria. Reaching nearly 2 million people in the last year alone, the work include a broad range of prevention and control methods, ensuring access and proper use of bed-nets, spraying walls with safe insecticides and ensuring rapid diagnosis followed by proper treatment.

In 2014, CRS began using seasonal malarial chemoprevention to help prevent malaria in children under the age of 5.

Additionally, advanced technology was also used to collect advanced data, and each family was given an ID card that stored information regarding when each house was sprayed and when they received bed nets, so that it could be tracked. This also eliminated duplication and waste.

Mr. Abdoulie Mam Njie, Executive Secretary of the Country Coordinating Mechanism of The Global Fund, said by wiping out malaria, they can raise up entire communities.

“We are interested in not only sustaining the gains we’ve made so far, but in securing additional resources to win the battle against this deadly disease,” he added.

Ms. C. Patricia Alsup, the U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia also said that they know elimination is possible, and now need everyone working together, to achieve this milestone.

In another development, courtesy of Reuters / BBC Africa Live, the Gambia could become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate malaria. The prevalence of the malaria parasite in children under five has plunged to 0.2% from 4% in 2011, according to National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) reports. The total number of new malaria cases in the country has fallen by about 40% in that time, to 155,450 cases last year, down from 262,000 in 2011, NMCP data shows.

Aside from the usual control measures, such as antimalarial drugs, insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying, Gambia has successfully used technology to tackle malaria, Carla Fajardo from aid agency Catholic Relief Services told Reuters. Internet service providers have boosted bandwidth in remote areas meaning they could collect real-time data and could make decisions on the fly, Ms Fajardo said.

Gambia is aiming to achieve the milestone of having no new malaria cases by 2020, NMCP head Balla Kandeh told Reuters.