A recent walk down the street, somewhere around my neighbourhood revealed a large crowd of people gathered around the ‘Agbo’ seller, each waiting to buy a dose of ‘Agbo’, the popular concoction of herbs usually used for treating malaria and other maladies like ‘Jedi Jedi’ (Haemorrhoids); Typhoid fever; and so on. Many people who cannot afford the high cost of malaria drugs regularly visit the ‘Agbo’ joint to get a dose of this herbal concoction in order to relieve their symptoms. Even many others who have been taking prescribed malaria medications, but whose symptoms keep recurring, come to visit the ‘Agbo’ joint for a dose of this herbal concoction.
Agbo is a herbal concoction, native to Yoruba tribes in Nigeria, and is slowly penetrating communities across Africa. It is made by boiling leaves, roots, and/or barks of specific trees in water or infusing them in alcohol.
Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that continues to have a devastating impact on the health and livelihood of people around the world. In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million new cases of malaria and 627,000 malaria-related deaths in 85 countries. More than two thirds of deaths were among children under the age of 5, living in the WHO African Region.
World Malaria Day is observed annually on April 25, to bring global attention to the efforts being made to bring an end to malaria, and encourage action to reduce suffering and death from the disease. World Malaria Day 2022, will be marked under the theme; “Harness innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden and save lives.” The World Health Organisation (WHO), is calling for investments and innovation that brings new vector control approaches, diagnostics, antimalarial medicines and other tools to speed the pace of progress against malaria.
What is malaria? Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Its symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms may sometimes recur every 48 to 72 hours, depending on the type of parasite involved and how long the person has had the disease.
Malaria is one of the major health issues affecting many countries around the world. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. And Nigeria, the most populous Black country, is one of the countries most affected. Therefore, this year’s World Malaria Day reminds us of the need to protect ourselves against mosquito bites by using insecticide treated mosquito nets, wearing clothes that cover most parts of the body, and using insect repellent on exposed skin.
Children under five years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. Statistics have shown that each year in Nigeria, an average of 300,000 children are killed by malaria. The disease is similarly responsible for 11 percent of all maternal deaths. What is disturbing is that a vast majority of these deaths are linked to highly-preventable causes, such as basic healthcare, hygiene, homelessness and sanitation practices. Most of these deaths were also fuelled by poverty and a lack of awareness in the general populace.
In view of the foregoing, creating awareness on the need to keep our environment clean can be very helpful. All stakeholders, including government, health practitioners, corporate organisations and NGOs, can get involved in creating such awareness on malaria prevention and control.
Another method that can help in malaria control is surveillance. This entails tracking of the disease and programmatic responses, and taking action based on the data received. Countries with a high burden of malaria such as Nigeria, require effective surveillance at all points on the path to malaria elimination. Therefore, stronger malaria surveillance systems are urgently needed to enable a timely and effective malaria response in endemic regions, to prevent outbreaks and resurgences, to track progress, and to hold governments and the global malaria community accountable.
Although a lot of progress has been made in efforts to control the malaria scourge, there still remain some serious issues that threaten the progress that has been made thus far. What are some of these issues? One of them is the emerging resistance to insecticides among Anopheles mosquitoes. According to one World Malaria Report, 68 countries reported mosquito resistance to at least one of the five commonly-used insecticide classes in the period 2010-2017. Among these countries, 57 reported resistance to two or more insecticide classes.
There is, therefore, an urgent need for new and improved tools in the global response to malaria. The WHO also underscores the critical need for all countries with ongoing malaria transmission to develop and apply effective insecticide resistance management strategies.
Yet, another serious issue undermining malaria control efforts is the issue of antimalarial drug resistance. Resistance to antimalarial medicines is a recurring problem. Protecting the efficacy of antimalarial medicines is critical to malaria control and elimination. Regular monitoring of drug efficacy is needed to inform treatment policies in malaria-endemic countries, such as Nigeria. It also helps to ensure early detection of, and response to, drug resistance.
Government can support the prevention of malaria by ensuring there is good environmental sanitation, to prevent breeding of mosquitoes that transmit malaria. It is also important to provide preventive tablets and mosquito nets to pregnant women, under-five children and their mothers, to prevent the disease. Government must ensure that testing kits are readily available at all health facilities, so that people can get tested before treatment to prevent resistance to the current drugs for treatment.
What steps can individuals and families take to protect themselves against malaria? It is good to note that malaria is both preventable and curable. A lot of lives can be saved by simply observing basic hygiene standards. It is important that people keep their environment clean and clear drainage to avoid stagnant water, where mosquitoes live.
Daniel IGHAKPE, is based in FESTAC Town, Lagos. He can be reached via email@example.com; 0817 479 5742.