The sustained fight against malaria has led to massive strides being made against the disease in the past few decades with malaria almost going extinct in most parts of the world. However, data available for Sub-Saharan Africa still paints a dismal picture, with over 96% of malaria deaths worldwide being reported from the continent alone in 2020, according to the World Health Organization. So, what explains these high numbers and what lies behind the region’s persistent malaria prevalence?
A recently published paper in the online journal Plos Global Public Health titled, “What Africa can do to accelerate and sustain progress against malaria” investigates the roadblocks in Africa’s sustained struggle against the disease while also suggesting solutions to accelerate the momentum in the fight against malaria.
Key Challenges Faced by Africa in Curbing Malaria
Experts and researchers have identified a host of interconnected socio-economic challenges to make sense of Africa’s stunted progress against malaria. These include an expanding population, growing resistance to insecticides and drugs and lack of access to essential commodities such as insecticide-treated nets and effective drugs.
While these are important factors that have certainly slowed down the fight against malaria, larger issues that need a more systemic change loom large. For example, an overburdened, and weak health system that was further exposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other contributing factors include overreliance on commodities, inefficient use of data for surveillance and lack of multisectoral approaches to malaria control.
A Multifaceted Approach to Malaria Elimination Is the Need of The Hour
Despite several challenges, Africa stands at the crossroads of opportunities to accelerate its fight against malaria. To get sustained results, there is a need to look inwards and come up with context-specific strategies to control malaria and finally eliminate it. The epidemiology of malaria in Africa makes it a particularly complex battle and therefore, the solutions cannot be generic but must be tailored at both the national and sub-national level.
From identifying and addressing the core weaknesses in the health system to reducing dependence on commodities such as mosquito nets, there is a lot that can be done. On one hand, researchers point to the need for robust surveillance systems and effective data management while on the other, the importance of systematic changes to the housing and sanitation conditions are highlighted. The continent should also put malaria at the centre of its research and development agenda and consistently work towards enhancing its resilience and capacity building in infectious disease control. Finally, countries should also invest in new potentially transformative tools such as vaccines and gene drives to complement the existing interventions and to fight the crisis with renewed vigour.
If Africa is to win the fight against malaria, the continent should look beyond the obvious and expand its fight against the disease to include tailored multisectoral initiatives and novel technologies.
Read the full study here.