though The Gambia missed the target of the Abuja Declaration to halve the
burden of malaria by 2010, it is finally set to be the first country in
sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate the mosquito-borne disease, one of the biggest
killers in the country.
Malaria prevalence is now just 0.2 per cent and the country is on a clear path to ‘no new cases’ by the year 2020, according to the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and The Global Fund – the two organisations in the forefront with the Gambia government supporting efforts and initiatives to eliminate what used to be the biggest public health concern in the country.
This is apparently the most pleasing news of the year, probably second to only the unexpected peaceful exit of the former President Yahya Jammeh.
The Gambia set a sample of how to get rid of a brutal dictator peacefully; it is also setting a record of in the fight against malaria thanks to international investment and a strong Gambian-led campaign.
Before now, about 11 per cent of total deaths registered annually in The Gambia are caused by malaria, according to the World Health Organisation data published in 2014.
For children, one in five used to die before their fifth birthday, mostly due to preventable childhood diseases, including malaria, the primary killer of young children.
Many children who survive an episode of severe malaria may suffer from learning impairments or brain damage, according to research findings.
It was a threat not only to health, but also to national development, as it affects productivity in society.
The disease, it has also been discovered, accounts for considerable lost days of productivity among the adult population in the country.
However, as part of efforts culminating to the near elimination of malaria, The Gambia made strides in the control and prevention through the change of treatment policy and the provision of the anti-malarial drug called Coartem in all public health facilities, as well as an increased community mobilisation and participation to prevent malaria.
The work included a broad range of prevention and control methods such as ensuring access and proper use of bed-nets; spraying walls with insecticides; and ensuring rapid diagnosis, followed by proper treatment.
According to statistics, Gambia’s landmark achievements in malaria control and prevention include: malaria parasitic prevalence decreased by 95 per cent, from 4 per cent in 2010 to 0.2 per cent in 2014, and malaria infections fell by 50 per cent across all regions between 2011 and 2016.
Like the health minister, Ms Saffie Lowe-Ceesay, said we are proud that The Gambia has made major strides in its fight against malaria which makes “elimination of the disease now within sight – a first for a sub-Saharan African country”.
However, just the like CRS’ chief of staff and executive vice president of strategy and organisational development, said now is not the time to stop or even slow our work for “the last mile will be the hardest, and that the disease can come back”.
From now to 2010, the all-out-out war against malaria now is not only to sustain the gains we made so far, but in securing additional resources to win the battle against this deadly disease.
We know elimination is possible, but more resources are needed to achieve this milestone. There is a need for continued bilateral support from partners, donors and the government alike.
“Malaria eradication requires a 100% mind-set of success. There are no 70% or 80% or 90% efforts that pass in malaria control and eradication. One single infected mosquito that escapes can go on to bring death to dozens of victims in its lifespan, lay more eggs and restart an outbreak that progresses from a few to dozens to hundreds”