Recognising progress in crisis: what malaria has taught Sierra Leone – op-ed

Dr. Samuel Smith & PC Bai Farama Tass Bubu Ngbak IV: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 April 2020:

The strides that our country has made in the fight to end malaria could understandably be overlooked against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps more so than ever, however, we must maintain our efforts and lean on our experience of fighting malaria to address emerging threats to our health and the systems we have in place to protect it.

World Malaria Day presents a moment for us to acknowledge how Sierra Leone has made strides, and defied the odds, against the world’s oldest disease.

This World Malaria Day marks one year since Sierra Leone launched its national Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, announced by Honourable Dr. Alpha T. Wurie, Minister of Health and Sanitation. Zero Malaria Starts with Me – also known as “Malaria E Don Wan Dae Na Mi Han” in Sierra Leone – is a continent-wide movement to eliminate malaria, that encourages all members of society to take responsibility for the fight and contribute in any way possible to the goal of malaria elimination.

In Sierra Leone, our entire population is at risk of this disease and it is one of the leading causes of death and illness in our country.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), we are one of seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa where more than a quarter of the population is infected with malaria at any given time, accounting for nearly four in ten hospital consultations countrywide.

Despite the challenge, Sierra Leone achieved significant declines in confirmed malaria deaths between 2010 and 2018, from 8188 to 1949 – the highest reduction in western Africa.

This is partly a result of sustained commitment from our government to provide essential prevention and treatment to everyone and it is partly due to the incredible efforts we have seen by community leaders and the population at large to promote the use of these essential interventions.

A spirit of inclusion, solidarity and collective responsibility must be built on and reinforced for a brighter, malaria-free, future.

Sierra Leone is deeply committed to ending malaria. It is the only country in Africa to have rolled out Intermittent Preventive Treatment in infants (IPTi) at the national level and free malaria treatment is available to all.

Furthermore, a mass distribution of bed nets is scheduled for next month that will equip every household with a tool proven to dramatically reduce the risk of malaria infection.

Today, we call on everyone in Sierra Leone to use these bed nets and sleep under them each and every night of the year. To achieve further progress in the fight against malaria, we must now ensure that all members of society can access the right information and the treatments available to them with confidence.

Government public health interventions have clearly played an important role in limiting the impact of malaria, yet so too has the media. Earlier this year, a new media coalition sought to amplify the reach and the impact of the Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign by supporting journalists to step up and play their part in the fight against malaria.

Through high-quality and factual reporting on malaria, our journalists can prevent misinformation and empower Sierra Leoneans everywhere to adopt life-saving malaria interventions.

Fighting malaria is a team effort, and each and every citizen of Sierra Leone can use their voice and take action to protect our communities from this disease. Recently, a delegation from the Ministry of Health & Sanitation and Speak Up Africa met with local councils, health authorities, paramount chiefs and religious leaders in the Kono, Kambia and Moyamba districts.

Paramount chiefs and religious leaders are vital sources of information for vast numbers of people and their role in supporting health initiatives must be celebrated and further bolstered in the coming months and years.

Speaking as a Paramount Chief of the Kambia District, I am thrilled to work with the National Malaria Control Program and their partners to find ways to make further progress against a disease that disrupts, and all too often ends, the lives of so many members of our communities.

We all share a common goal: to eliminate malaria from our districts, and from our country. Together we pledge to kickstart a decade of action, progress malaria elimination, and strengthen our health system as a whole. (Photo: Dr. Samuel Smith – Right; and PC Bai Farama Tass Bubu Ngbak IV – left).

2020 has proven that we cannot predict what will happen to us, as a country and as a world. Efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect our health systems, but we cannot allow this disease to compromise access to life-saving malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We have made too many strides forward to allow progress to fall back.

In order to achieve a Sierra Leone free from malaria, an unprecedented level of human and financial resources will be necessary to make serious headway towards the goal of malaria elimination by 2030. The vision of a malaria-free Sierra Leone is in sight, but we must all work together to achieve this goal.

About the authors

Dr. Samuel Smith is the Director of Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and Hon. Paramount Chief Bai Farama Tass Bubu Ngbak IV of Magbema Chiefdom, Kambia District.

4 Comments

  1. The floods are coming, again, an alert!!!! Government must multitask Understandably and rightly so, everyone’s attention is laser focused upon the prevailing world upheaval that has gripped all four corners of the world, by none other than the fearsome, indiscriminate, unrelenting and invisible coronavirus, dubbed Covid-19, by the world body which is theoretically charged with the responsibility for world health, aptly referred to as WHO, World Health Organization. Pedestrians and motorists are pictured using a road damaged by floods in a Constituency in Kenya. MP’s be on the alert. Look out for your constituency.

    This photo is as recent as: 6 May 2020. But least we in Sierra Leone forget, there is another pending catastrophe, albeit recurring, waiting to rare it’s ugly head, once again, which Sierra Leone is well too familiar with. There was a time, in the not too long distant past, when a deluge of Monsoon rains devastated a vast number of families who were swept. The heavy rain is expected to continue for weeks away by the severe pouring rain and its attendant features of floods and mudslides, in which many lives were lost.mSo please Mr. Government, you may be preoccupied right now with the coronavirus as well as internal self-destruction, witness attempted jail break, and a couple of protest in some parts of the country, but please don’t forget the rains and the floods and the mudslides. It could be a double or triple tragedies indeed if this annual event were to be allowed to ever happen again.

  2. Hello patricia, you are right, malaria is still a disease with the highest mortality rate in africa, now about 350.000 people each year. Good mosqito nets without holes and well fixed are very important. But I don’t agree with you to take malaria medicaments each day or weekly over a long period. The side effects are too high. They are only good for tourists or people who stay only for few weeks in Africa.

    • Hello Reinhard. Antimalarial prevention medication is perfectly fine to take weekly or daily, provided you get one that causes you no side effects.
      When a medication is commenced, it is important that your doctor keeps an eye on you to monitor for side effects. If there are any, then it should be changed to a more favourable medication that can be taken for a long period.

      As a child growing up in Freetown, I remember my mother giving my siblings and I, Nivaquine every Sunday. If my memory serves me right, I started at age 8 till I left for college at age 18. None of us ever had malaria.

      When I went to college, thinking I was now a big girl and could look after myself, I stopped the antimalarial prevention medication, and within 6 months I had a bout of malaria for the first time in my life. It was terrible and I felt so unwell.

      Once I got better, I restarted the medication and never had another bout of malaria. I finally stopped them when I left Sierra Leone for temperate climates 12 years later.

      I am completely fine after so many years on the medication. So it is better to find something that works and has no side effects, than suffer from malaria and its consequences.

  3. Ridding the African continent of malaria has been in the pipeline now for decades, but still deaths from malaria are high.
    Malaria prevention is via mosquito nets, clearing up garbage effectively, preventing stagnant water and so reducing their breeding habitats and by medication for prevention and treatment.

    COVID19 has shown us that we as Africans need to be resourceful and resilient, to be independent of western countries and start doing things for ourselves.

    Most african countries have problems with garbage collection. There is standing water in many places. Health Inspectors do not go to every household anymore to disinfect areas of standing water.

    Try the mosquito nets impregnated with mosquito repellents (which by the way being given out free). Many people experience extreme itching of the body, swollen, red and watering eyes. These nets need to be washed and dried at least five times before comfortable usage. This may be why many people do not use them properly. Plain mosquito nets work well as long as they are not torn and are used religiously every night.

    Medicines for malaria prevention are effective, but people generally forget to take the medicines on a daily or weekly basis.

    When will Africa find a vaccine against malaria? We have many capable scientists around the continent who should take this challenge seriously and come up with a vaccine. A vaccine will minimise deaths from malaria, especially in children.

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