WHO estimates that renewed malaria prevention and control interventions could prevent approximately 10,000 deaths in the Borno state of northeastern Nigeria, formerly occupied by Boko Haram militants.
More than 8 years of conflict between government and militant forces in Borno have resulted in suspension of regular health services, such as routine vaccination and antimalarial medications. WHO reports that, in addition to security threats from Boko Haram, 3.7 million Nigerians — 58.8% of whom are children — are currently at increased risk for acute malnutrition and malaria outbreaks.
“Malaria, malnutrition, fragile states and civil strife often feed each other,” Pedro Alonso, MD, PhD, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Program, said in a press release. “Wherever we have a humanitarian crisis in a malaria endemic country, we can almost always be sure that malaria is the number one killer.”
Malnutrition rates are well above emergency thresholds in many parts of northeastern Nigeria. The need for food assistance is likely to increase even further next month when stores from last year’s poor harvest run out. According to the Nigeria-National Nutrition and Health Survey, 2.6% of children aged 6-59 months in Borno State have Severe Acute Malnutrition; UNICEF warns of an estimated 450,000 child Severe Acute Malnutrition cases in 3 states of the northeast in the next 12 months.
Source: WHO/A. Clements-Hunt
The organization notes because of preventive measures, deaths resulting from malaria have decreased over 60% and 6 million deaths have been prevented in the past 15 years. However, over half of the deaths in Borno are still attributable to malaria — an amount higher than the number of deaths from all other causes of death combined, including cholera, measles and hepatitis E.
“The most effective way to reduce deaths in emergencies in fragile states, especially those facing malnutrition, is by boosting malaria prevention and control,” Alonso said in the release. “However, this is often not viewed as the top priority during an emergency response. We are working with our WHO colleagues and many partners to change this.”
WHO and supporting organizations will take the following steps to prevent the spread of malaria in endemic areas:
- Strengthen surveillance systems to monitor cases and outbreaks of malaria
- Increase people’s access to care in clinics and to health facilities
- Spray insecticides and distribute bed nets as part of vector control
- Administer malaria drugs to children younger than 5 years every month from July to October
The drug distribution began last month, with over 880,000 of 1.1 million children younger than 5 living in Borno state receiving antimalarial drugs. WHO reports that $2.5 million is needed to continue this effort.
Similar plans are being considered for other areas severely affected by malaria and malnutrition, including South Sudan.
“We will not know the full impact of our efforts until November, but we are confident that taking these steps will go a long way in reducing deaths and suffering of people from malaria so they can get on with their lives,” Wondi Almeu, MD, MPH, said in the release. – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosure: The researchers provide no relevant financial disclosures.