Today is World Malaria Day. This year’s theme: End Malaria for Good.
While 6.8 million malaria deaths were averted between 2000 – 2015, there are still 3.2 billion people who are susceptible to contracting the disease every day and a half million children die from malaria every year. There is a long way to go to save more lives especially for children under the age of five in sub-Saharan African where most deaths occur.
As you might know last Friday marked World Malaria Day, a day to encourage the global health community, the private sector, governments, NGOs, and everyday, ordinary people to keep up the fight to help defeat malaria.
Every minute a child dies of malaria somewhere in the world, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, 90% of children who die from malaria live in Africa and 40% of those live in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to WorldMalariaDay.org. There is encouraging news, however. From 2000 – 2012 3.3 million lives were saved due to scaled up malaria control interventions. What many might not understand is that malaria is completely preventable and treatable, a fact that is repeatedly reiterated by the World Health Organization and others. Interventions such a insecticide-treated bed nets, residual indoor spraying, and draining of stagnant water helps to control malaria. One of the reasons many children, especially those under the age of five, die from malaria is because they are not treated in time or remote areas do not have access to rapid diagnostic tests and treatments.
Malaria No More, an international NGO that is determined to end malaria, launched its Malaria Sucks campaign on World Malaria Day that encourages donations, as low as $1, to help save more children from dying from malaria. Malaria Sucks’ icon is an orange lollipop that signifies what children in malaria prone areas miss out on – their childhoods. One donated dollar goes to rapid diagnostic testing and full treatment for one child, so a dollar indeed makes a difference.
Celebrities have taken on the issue like Anthony Bourdain and James Ven Der Beek who tweeted their support of the Malaria Sucks campaign.
“MalariaSUCKS is a fun, tangible way for supporters to connect to an issue that may seem distant from their everyday lives,” said Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund in a statement. “We’re putting our supporters in the spotlight – asking them to help us create real change through an everyday activity like posting a selfie and spreading a powerful humanitarian message through their social networks. It’s our pink ribbon, only sweeter.”
I have been told enough harrowing personal stories and have read enough reports to understand contracting malaria isn’t a cakewalk. And for children (especially those under the age of five) and expectant mothers malaria can be deadly. Fortunately with rapid diagnosis and malaria treatments children as well as adults can experience speedy recoveries from a disease that is both debilitating and potentially fatal.
While in Zambia last month I visited the Chongwe District Hospital in Lusaka province with Malaria No More to see how robust malaria control efforts funded by the Zambian government, USAID, the Global Fund and other NGOs and private foundations have helped drastically reduced the number of child deaths in the country. Zambia has effectively reduced the number of malaria deaths to 8000 annually through prevention measures including mass distributions of mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, fogging, and spraying of mosquito-infected areas like bogs and dambos (shallow wetlands). The annual deaths have also been reduced because of the mass test and treatment programs that are being administered by frontline health workers around the country. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these deaths are children under the age of five because their immune systems cannot fight off the disease without the help of a positive diagnosis and follow-up medications.
In Zambia 50% of children are admitted to hospitals due to malaria according to UNICEF. You must also understand that being admitted to a hospital means that frontline health care didn’t work and that hospital care is necessary. In Zambia as well as in most developing countries, most healthcare is done on the local level. Most severe cases are referred to hospitals as was the case of these three children I met in the Chongwe District Hospital located about an hour outside of Lusaka.
While malaria is wholly preventable and treatable some children still struggle getting better when they contract the infectious disease. This little boy was extremely sick, but was steadily getting better. I took his picture as he slept with the permission of his mother who was sitting lovingly at his side.
This little boy played with his mother’s hands and reached to breastfeed as he laid beside her. He had one of the sweetest faces I’ve ever seen and was quickly on the mend from his bout of malaria. This little boy, who was snuggled with his mother, was also feeling better than before, but was quite lethargic. There are stages children have to go through to get better. Doctors had a positive prognosis for his eventual improvement.
By 2015, Zambia has a goal of having 100% of malaria cases are diagnosed and treated with Coartem on the community and health post level. While that goal hasn’t been achieved yet, Zambia with the expertise of Path’s MACEPA program and countrywide campaigns such as Power of One is helping Zambia steadily stand behind its commitment.
In Zambia there is one central location where over 600 medicines are stored for distribution throughout the country. I was recently in Zambia as a guest of Malaria No More and its new campaign, Power of One that ensures that with a small $1 donation a Zambian child will receive a full course of malaria treatment and a diagnostic test. While in Zambia Ivisited the Central Medical Store located in Lusaka where I saw Coartem, the life-saving medicine that prevents children from dying from malaria.
While there, I couldn’t help looking around at many of the medicines stacked to the rafters in the warehouse and also noticed the donors that provided various medicines and even equipment like the Global Fund, for example, that provides Lamivudine that treats Hepatitis B. The UNFPA provides male latex condoms to Zambia and also donated forklifts to the warehouse as well as USAID that provides family planning commodities for Zambian women. These are just a few examples of some of the medicines I saw. Additionally, USAID provided trucks that transports the medicines throughout the country. These are just a few of the observations I made.
In Zambia the Ministry of Health along with many of its NGO partners are looking at new and innovative ways to distribute medicines more efficiently throughout the country. In many remote areas like Zambia’s northwestern and northern provinces it becomes increasingly difficult to transport medicines, especially when the rainy season begins. Getting life-saving medicines and medical supplies becomes critical for the health and wellness of entire communities.
Now, the Central Medical Store is rolling out temporary hubs where medicines and medical supplies can be housed in each province instead of solely stored in Lusaka. The first of these hubs has been opened in Choma, a nearby major city center south of Lusaka. In Zambia, each of its 650 health posts must have one to two months of medical supplies on hand whereas hospitals must have a three month supply of medicines. In addition to introducing hub warehouses throughout the country the medical distribution supply chain is becoming more cloud-based which will ensure health posts and hospitals are able to order medicines and supplies from their mobile phones.
It was fascinating to see the Central Medical Store in Lusaka. It’s a huge operation that receives five containers of medicines a day and is effectively the most important component of the entire country’s medical supply chain.