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Home » Infectious Diseases » Why ‘doing just enough’ to combat malaria is a deadly strategy

Dr Kolawole Maxwell

West and Central Africa Programmes Director, Malaria Consortium

We cannot afford to stand still in our fight against malaria, a treatable disease causing preventable deaths. There needs to be a cosmic shift in how it’s tackled.

Malaria is an ever-evolving disease. If we continue to do ‘just enough’ to combat it, any progress we make simply ebbs away — and, consequently, many more will die.

Insufficient malaria tools fuel disease severity

Kolawole Maxwell, West and Central Africa Programmes Director at Malaria Consortium, a charity dedicated to the comprehensive prevention, control and treatment of targeted diseases, including malaria, describes the disease as a moving target. “When we deploy tools to attack (the vector and the parasite) but do not finish the job, they innovate and survive,” he says.

“Then, our immunity is not enough to keep the disease at bay — so we start to see an increase in numbers (of people affected by malaria), but also the severity of the disease itself.”

In 2022, there were 608,000 reported deaths from malaria, Kolawole reveals that 80% of these were children under five years old — it’s why he describes it as ‘a disease of the voiceless’ — and insists there needs to be a cosmic shift in how it’s tackled.

Nigeria is a microcosm of the global malaria landscape

Nigeria — accounting for nearly 27% of the world’s malaria cases — may provide a template for change. The country can be viewed as a microcosm of the global malaria landscape, with its rapidly increasing population, variations in burden and additional threats to progress such as resistance.

“There are areas like Kebbi State in which prevalence is very high, compared to Lagos where prevalence is very low,” explains Kolawole. Importantly, these variations could provide clues as to how tailored interventions — such as the combination of nets, vaccines and chemoprevention — can be successfully layered locally. “If we can make a dent in malaria in Nigeria, we are able to make a dent globally,” he says.

If we can make a dent in malaria in Nigeria, we are able to make a dent globally.

Digital health solutions and innovative financing

Kolawole stresses the importance of efficient and effective technology to enable real-time data availability. “That will be essential as we move to eliminating the disease because it requires quick decision-making,” he says. “It will mean tracking every case as they occur, not reporting every month.”

Also fundamental is innovative health financing, allowing countries to meaningfully describe and plan their own elimination agendas and invest money where it’s needed most.

Governments should also encourage — and lead — more public-private-philanthropic partnerships, insists Kolawole, who remains optimistic but never complacent about the future. “Innovative financing is coming; new vaccines are coming; new monoclonal antibiotics are coming,” he notes. “I believe that we can defeat this disease.”

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