The news sounded good, even if tantalising: eliminating malaria by 2030 could save Nigeria some N2 trillion in economic downtime, resulting from the umpteenth malaria burden.
President Muhammadu Buhari gave this hint, on August 16, at the inauguration of business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and the 16-man Nigeria End Malaria Council (EMC) that he chairs.
Still, as good as the expectation sounded, its tantalising aspect is very worrisome. There appears legitimate fears that 2030 might just be another target year that will come and go; and all would still be none the wiser.
That is not entirely unfounded. In truth, Nigeria has done rather poorly in achieving international set targets. There was “Housing for All by 2000”. Yet, 2000 came but there was no housing for all.
There were also the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were generally unattained, though those were a function of regional disparities rather than total failures.
Indeed the eight MDGs, signed by 189 countries at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, with a target frame of 2015 and 2020, were to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.
Again, whereas decent strides had been made in the local components of the MDGs, uneven regional developments have forced down the national average, thus calling for more social investments in the areas and regions lagging behind in the developmental chain.
Incidentally, malaria — the subject of a new elimination target for 2030 (eight years from now) — was part of the original MDGs. That means the Nigeria End Malaria (NEM) project is not starting afresh. Rather, it’s an old target being re-booted as a specific new one. That is to be lauded and given all the encouragement it deserves.
But as the old MDGs, funding is crucial. By the EMC’s projections, an eight-year plan to rid Nigeria of malaria would eventually free some N2 trillion in terms of wellness-powered socio-economy. But even in its starting year — 2022 — that wellness should translate to a N687 billion gain for starters! That looks very exciting.
Still, the all-mighty caveat: the funding must be right. Otherwise, all would be lost. Indeed, the past poor records were all a function of poor access to sustainable funding. On that score, the choice of Dangote as chairman would appear a smart move. Dangote is already a “malaria” veteran.
“I must confess that this resonates with my current role as the Nigerian Ambassador for Malaria, my role as the Global End Malaria Council and the work that my Foundation is doing to mobilise the private sector to support malaria control in Nigeria and Africa at large,” Dangote declared at the inauguration.
That sounded rather reassuring; and it’s yet another signpost that the Dangote EMC is condemned to walking its talk. It would be glorious if they did; and everything should be put in place to ensure that they do.
By sheer statistics, Nigeria is in a bad place, in the context of malaria burden. From figures supplied by Dr. Osage Ehanire, the Minister of Health, Nigeria still accounts for more than one out of every five (23 per cent) malaria cases worldwide, by 2018 numbers. But even that was a near-free fall from 2010, when Nigeria accounted for almost one out of every two global cases (42 per cent).
That continuous fall in malaria burden kindles some hope that the 2030 target is not unattainable, with fierce focus and strong political will. The Dangote committee should therefore strive to rally everyone, while all levels of governments: federal, states and local, should give the EMC all the policy support it needs.
But while the campaign against malaria rages, government policies at all levels should continue to focus on wiping out poverty. Shorn of the poverty burden, folks would access far better nutrition which naturally builds the body’s immunity against all forms of diseases, among which malaria is a notable plague.
While rallying anti-malarial funding, the Dangote committee should draw far more Nigerian corporate charities to the cause. It’s a shame really that foreign charities take the lead in malaria research and elimination funding. It’s time Nigerian corporate giants took their due place in this great campaign.
It would be a charity of self-interest. Nobody needs tell anyone that eliminating malaria is a win-win, for a healthier workforce, free of the malaria burden, would be a massive healthy jab on the bottom-line.