Opinion: We need a new strategy to effectively fight malaria

by Jibrin Ibrahim

Mosquito netEven if everybody in Nigeria uses treated nets of high quality, the mosquitoes will get us on the way to our beds and the cartel flooding the country with fake drugs will continue to make their billions.

April 25th each year is designated as World Malaria Day to focus energy on strategies to eliminate the disease. In Nigeria, 100 million people suffer from malaria attacks and 300,000 of them die each year. It is the largest cause of disease and death in the country. It strangles our health care system by occupying 60% of visits to clinics and we lose very many of our children to it. In addition, we lose millions of working hours to malaria and it is a central factor in the vicious cycle of the reproduction of poverty in Nigeria and more generally n Africa. As the new government takes office in Nigeria, developing a more effective strategy against the malaria scourge should be at the centre of their policy thrust.

Over the past decade, billions of dollars have been invested by the West through the Global Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other agencies in the war against malaria. Our own Aliko Dangote has joined the fray and is adding his resources to the existing programme, which will take us nowhere. The fact of the matter is that since 1995, the West has taken the decision that Africa must not eliminate malaria; it should only try to control it through insecticide treated nets and anti-malaria drugs. Everybody knows that this approach can only reduce the problem and never solve it. As the country in the world with the largest death toll from malaria, we should divert from this policy that would only lead to more deaths and suffering. Even if everybody in Nigeria uses treated nets of high quality, the mosquitoes will get us on the way to our beds and the cartel flooding the country with fake drugs will continue to make their billions.

The big question is why is the West so obstinately against the elimination of malaria, and why is the United Nations system complicit in the plot? Why can’t Africans dream about, but more importantly, work towards the elimination of malaria? In the case of malaria, the choice of the West is that conditions for money-making through industries making mosquito nets and anti-malaria drugs are more important than the lives of one million African children who die from the disease each year. This year, a vaccine against malaria will be launched but its effectiveness is very low and its cost high.

There is an alternative approach, which is completely rejected by the West because the Cubans invented it. What the Cubans have done is to invent a system of biolarvicides that will simply eat up the mosquito eggs and completely eliminate mosquitoes from the environment. This approach of exterminating the mosquito was what the West used in its own areas of mosquito infestation and malaria prevalence. They used millions of tons chemical insecticides such as DDT to kill the mosquitoes. Of course they knew that these chemicals had negative impact on the environment but the decision they took was that in spite of the impact, it was strategically in the interest of the countries concerned to eliminate the disease at whatever cost. The outcome is that today, malaria is a major problem only in the poorest areas in Africa and Asia. What is revealing about the present context is that science has developed to a stage where the technical capacity to eliminate malaria through the use of chemical larvicides is available. Such chemical agents that could be used include methoprene, which is an agent that is specific to mosquitoes and prevents the normal maturation of insect larvae. Other agents are monomolecular films which are low toxicity pesticides that spread a thin film on the surface of water, making it difficult for mosquito larvae pupae and emerging adults to attach to water surface, causing them to drown. There are also monomolecular oils, similar to monomolecular films, coating on the surface of water that drowns larvae, pupae and emerging adult mosquitoes.

The oils are specially derived from petroleum distillates. The position of the West, however, is that chemicals are bad for the environment. It was in this context that the Cubans intervened to develop effective and safe biolarvicides that can protect the environment and eliminate malaria. These biolarvicides are bacteria known in biology as Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus spaericus are sprayed into breeding sites. The mosquito larvae ingest the bacteria, which then disrupt their mechanisms and kill them. This technique has been successfully used to control malaria in Vietnam. In addition, microbial larvicides can be safely added to drinking water and in environmentally sensitive areas, as they do not persist or accumulate in the environment or in body tissues and are not toxic to animals and crops, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The West, Gates and the Global Fund are however resolutely against the strategy of elimination of the mosquito. The African experience over the past two decades is that the West is committed to reducing malaria but does not want it eliminated. It was on this basis that ECOWAS took the decision to listen to the Cubans and the Venezuelans who have offered to build production factories that will supply the agents and also develop modes application of biolarvicides in Africa and one such factory is to be built in Port Harcourt.

Under the agreement with ECOWAS, Cuba will provide technical support by transferring the existing and effective technology for the setting up of the factories for the production and application of biolarvicides for vector control. Venezuela will provide financial support for the setting up of three factories in Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.  ECOWAS will provide political advocacy and commitment needed to achieve the elimination of malaria in West Africa by 2020. The collapse of petroleum prices has however seriously affected the Venezuelan economy and they are no longer in a position to keep the financial contributions they promised. As Nigeria has the sad record of having the largest number of malaria deaths in the world, our governments should take up this challenge of eliminating malaria. It is imperative that this revolutionary approach succeeds especially now that the World Health Organisation has accepted that the application of biolarvicides is ecologically sound, sustainable, safe and indeed recommended.

We must therefore commend ECOWAS for embracing this campaign for the elimination of malaria at its 42nd Summit in Yamoussoukro, Cote D’Iviore in February 2013. The Resolution provided one of the latest indications of the coherent commitment to confront the challenge of malaria in a coordinated manner, realising that diseases have no respect for borders and to ensure a regional response to this challenge. It’s now the turn of General Buhari to take up leadership on this important issue, both at the national and regional levels.

The regional response mechanism has recently been strengthened with a vector control programme that will complement the existing national and regional strategies as part of the arsenal for ensuring the realisation of the 2020 deadline. As I mentioned above, malaria elimination is not a new strategy. It was first implemented way back in 1955 by the World Health Organisation, which decided at that time that it should not be done in sub-Saharan Africa. They used indoor residual spraying, with DDT, alongside case management to eliminate it in the West. We can do better today so let’s move on and eliminate malaria.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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