MALARIA STILL A CONCERN As 2.5 million die of the disease every year

By Sarjo Camara Singateh

The Deputy Permanent Secretary Technical Mr. Dawda Ceesay has said that malaria is a deadly mosquito borne disease which claims millions of lives every year.

Mr Ceesay made this remark while deputising for the Minister of Health and Social Welfare at a recent press briefing and symposium held at the Paradise Suites Hotel ahead of the World Malaria Day 2015 which was celebrated in Lower River Region.

He said that the heart wrenching truth is that the world’s children, particularly those in Africa, shoulder much of malaria’s burden. Worldwide, an estimated 300 to 500 million cases of malaria are contracted every year, resulting in up to 2.5million deaths, mostly among the very young.

He stated that in The Gambia, Malaria is the probable cause of 4% of infant deaths and 25% of deaths in children 1 to 4 years. “Although the economic burden of malaria has not been fully determined, there is no doubt that the disease accounts for considerable lost days of productivity among that adult population, absenteeism from schools and workplaces and increased household expenditure on health. Malaria is therefore not only a health problem but also a developmental one,” he opined.

He said in Africa alone where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur, malaria is the leading cause of death for children under 5 years of age. The world health organisation estimates that 3,000 people die of malaria every day. “Malaria kills an African child every 45 seconds. The commonest and most important complications of the infection in children are cerebral malaria, severe anaemia, respiratory distress and hypoglycaemia. Many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage.”

Deputy Permanent Secretary Technical Dawda Ceesay said pregnant women and their unborn babies are particularly vulnerable to malaria. When a woman is pregnant, her immunity is reduced, making her more vulnerable to malaria infection with dangerous consequences such as abortion, still birth, premature delivery and low birth weight. He noted that at least 24 million pregnancies are threatened each year in Africa and malaria causes up to 15% of maternal anaemia and about 35% of preventable low birth weight. “Low birth weight is also a major cause of problems in subsequent child development,” he added.

For his part the Programme Manager, National Malaria Control Programme, Mr. Bala Kandeh said 25th April is a day to commemorat global efforts to control malaria. He said the theme for the fourth world malaria day is “invest in the future and defeat malaria.” “This heralds the international community renewed efforts to make progress towards zero malaria deaths by 2015,” he asserted. Mr. Kandeh further said Malaria stakeholders will continue to report on the remaining challenges to reach the 2010 target of universal coverage of malaria treatment and prevention, as called for by the UN Secretary – General,  Ban ki- Moon.

He noted that world malaria day represents a chance for all of us to make a difference. Whether you are a government, a company, a charity or an individual, you can roll back malaria and help generate broad gains in health and human development.

The NMCP, Programme Manager said reducing the impact of malaria is key to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, agreed by every United Nations Member State. These include not only combating the disease itself, but also goals related to women’s and children’s rights and health, access to education and the reduction of extreme poverty.

For his part, the World  Health Organisation’s country Director Dr. Charles Segoe-Moses said World Malaria Day was instituted in 2008, by the World Health Assembly, and the day is an occasion to harmonise global, regional, national and country level advocacy efforts to maintain progress in preventing, diagnosing and treating malaria.

Dr. Segoe-Moses stated that while huge gains in the fight against malaria have been made in recent years, the disease still has a devastating impact on people’s health and livelihoods around the world, particularly in Africa, where it kills almost half a million children under 5 each year. He said the new strategy aims to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 90% by 2030 from current levels. “Four countries have been certified free of malaria in the last decade and the post 2015 strategy sets the goal of eliminating the disease from a further 35 countries by 2030,” he stated.

The event was attended by the Malaria Consortium and partners including Medical Research Council, Catholic Relief Service, UNICEF and WHO.