Kenya joins the world on Tuesday in commemorating the 10th World Malaria Day as the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls on countries to scale up efforts to prevent and eliminate malaria.
But as celebrations are held in Narok County, new data shows the mosquito-borne parasitic disease is among leading killers in Kenya.
But WHO notes that between 2010 and 2015, major gains have been made in the control and prevention of the disease.
For instance, there has been a 21 per cent decrease in malaria cases and 29 per cent decrease in deaths globally.
In Kenya, malaria deaths may have halved from about 30,000 in 2012 to 16,000 last year.
This has been attributed to the use of prevention approaches including insecticide-treated bed nets, spraying indoor walls with insecticides and preventive medicines for the most vulnerable groups: Pregnant women, under-fives and infants.
“WHO-recommended tools have made a measurable difference in the global malaria fight,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO.
Still, in 2015, there were 212 million cases of malaria worldwide with at least 400,000 patients succumbing to the disease.
“We need a much bigger push for prevention — especially in Africa, which bears the greatest burden of malaria,” Dr Chan said in a press statement.
WHO’s latest report highlights critical gaps in prevention coverage, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where 43 per cent of the people at risk of malaria were not protected by either a bed net or indoor insecticide spraying in 2015.
Further, approximately 69 per cent of pregnant women in 20 African countries did not have access to the recommended three or more doses of preventive treatment.
In Kenya, these gaps seem to be contributing to a resurgence of the disease in some counties.
For instance, about 100 people were treated for malaria at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret, in the past one month, raising fears of an outbreak of the disease in Uasin Gishu County.
However, although the Ministry of Health confirmed an increase in malaria cases, it allayed fears of an outbreak, saying “appropriate response to mitigate the issue has already begun”
It advised people to report any suspected malaria cases.
The latest malaria data, published in the 2017 Economic Survey, which was released last week, show that malaria claimed an estimated 16,000 lives in 2016, coming after pneumonia, which killed 21,295 people.
And although the National Malaria Strategy 2009-2017 had promised a ‘Malaria-Free Kenya’ by the end of this year, that now seems to be far-fetched.
Amid the gloom, however, experts are excited by a malaria testing kit developed by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that detects the disease before patients exhibit symptoms. The molecular-based, field laboratory-deployed Illumigene malaria is more sensitive at detecting the parasite than current tests.
“The kit has the potential to change current practices,” said Professor Daouda Ndiaye, Department of Parasitology-Mycology, Cheikh Anta Diop University. “Faster and more accurate diagnosis is vital in the fight against malaria.”
A recent evaluation by CDC and the University of Dakar, reported in November, showed Illumigene compared well in poor field conditions with advanced molecular labs in the United States. Thus, it can be used in a poor, rural village to give similar results with such labs.
“Earlier diagnosis enables the correct treatment to be prescribed, which leads to better clinical outcomes for the person with malaria and keeps malaria treatments for the right people,” said Prof Ndiaye.