With more money involved, more hands were put on deck, more innovative interventions were thought up and better policies were adopted. The result, as shown by statistics, is that malaria has been rolled back. According to the UN agency for health, WHO, malaria deaths fell by 54 percent in Africa, between the year 2000 and 2013.
Fifteen years into the Abuja targets, on January 31, African heads of state and government met in Addis Ababa for the AU summit during which the African Leaders Malaria Alliance Forum was held. At this forum, African leaders not only adopted the malaria elimination agenda, but also several countries were recognised for their progress in control of Malaria over the past year. The Gambia is deservedly among those recognised, winning the 2015 ALMA Award for Excellence in the fight against malaria. The selection for this award was done by an independent committee, comprising representatives of the WHO, Roll Back Malaria partnership, the private sector, civil society and academia.
Over the past decade or so, there has been continued decline of malaria in the country, encouraging consideration of future elimination of this previously leading killer disease. Statistics show that malaria incidence has since dropped by 85 percent while malaria admissions and deaths have dropped by 74 percent and 90 percent, respectively. National policy responses to consolidate the changing malaria situation have been helpful. Through Global Fund support, the government was able to distribute insecticide treated bed-nets across the country. Charitable organisations have weighted in to complement the efforts of the government in this endeavour.
Besides the bed-nets which no doubt made a difference, the awareness-raising programme and monthly clean up exercise have been instrumental in controlling the mosquito population, and with it, the control of malaria. This shows how we can defeat great enemies, such as malaria and others, if we have a sense of unity of purpose and are driven towards the common good. The change of attitude on the part of the members of the public cannot be ignored as we celebrate the Malaria Excellence award. The people are no longer afraid to sleep under bed-nets and are more aware about the importance of keeping a healthy environment, thereby keeping mosquitoes at bay.
Taken together, the award given to The Gambia in recognition of our fight against malaria is a culmination of efforts. The government as the duty bearer will take the lion share of the credit. The award presents further opportunities for the country, coming at a time when the authorities are set out to introduce year-round tourism. One of the biggest fears for this initiative has been the fact that malaria is more common during the rains and tourists would not want to be confronted with it. With the disease nipped, tourism authorities will be imbued with confidence to go ahead with plans to expand the season. One of the areas that will benefit most from the rolling back of malaria is agriculture. The disease has hampered the farming population, rearing its heads at the time farmers, more than any other time of the year, needed adequate health of body and of mind to take charge of their production. There should be hope for the newborn and pregnant women population who bear the brunt of the malaria burden.
As we countdown to World Malaria Day in April, we should be reminded that the best is yet to come. Malaria should not just be rolled back, it should be eliminated. Rather than scale down, we should scale up interventions to fulfil the prospects of eliminating malaria by 2030, as envisaged in the Abuja Targets.