As the world marks World Malaria Day (April 25), several African countries continue to battle the impact of a preventable disease claiming thousands of lives. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, malaria has claimed an estimated 380,000 lives in 2018 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). But there are some signs of hope in Somalia.
This year’s theme was reaching the “Zero Malaria” target as the WHO celebrated the achievement of those countries that are on the verge of eliminating the disease.
While Somalia is still not malaria-free, the country’s authorities say there has been some progress in the past three years in decreasing the number of deaths from the disease. That is welcome news for the Horn of Africa nation struggling to curb other challenges, including drought and lack of security.
Dr. Ali Abdulrahman, manager of Somalia’s national malaria control department, pointed out that deaths from malaria have declined, from 31 in 2018, 22 in 2019 to five last year.
"There was a lot of interventions we have done including distribution of long-lasting insecticide nets to the target population, especially IDPs (internally displaced persons) and other vulnerable and indoor residual spraying were done in the riverine areas and also case management was going on in all health facilities in the country that was interventions done to reduce cases,” Abdulrahman said.
Somalia has a weak health care system and is poorly resourced, according to the WHO. Due to decades of insecurity and conflict, the country’s institutions struggle to provide access to malaria prevention and treatment to those at risk of contracting the disease, including pregnant women and children.
Falestine Mohamed Abukar, a mother of three who lives in an internally displaced persons camp in Mogadishu, said she paid $40 last year to get medicine from a local pharmacy where she was referred when she tested positive for malaria and typhoid.
She said she was very weak in bed and when she visited the nearest health center but the health care providers said they did not have the medicine. They then referred her to get it from private pharmacies and pay out of pocket.
Dr. Jamal Amran from the country’s World Health Organization office says WHO is working with Somali authorities to improve access to malaria medication.
“This year will start to do rapid assessment needs of IDPs and other neglected groups like nomads to see how and what the factors are preventing them to utilize health services properly. And based on all findings, we will, along with other partners, develop [a] specific strategy for health services for these minorities, and of course, with the involvement with civil society groups and the community and also workers especially now with COVID-19,” Amran said.
Hailed as a possible breakthrough, a new malaria vaccine has shown to be 77% effective in early trials to combat the disease. And once approved for use, countries like Somalia could benefit in continuing their fight against malaria and meet the malaria-free goal.