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‘March to Kigali’: A campaign step to crash Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi
Participants at the Ghana launch of the 'March to Kigali' campaign in Accra
Participants at the Ghana launch of the 'March to Kigali' campaign in Accra

For many years, millions of people from across the world, particularly in Africa have battled with various forms of ailments, resulting mainly from diseases that are practically preventable and avoidable.

Even though advancement in health research and technologies have helped to reduce many of these preventable diseases in Africa, many people still suffer from them.

Malaria and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are part of these preventable diseases which have for many years become a thorn in the flesh of African countries. Many people in Africa are affected by these diseases, with several millions of them needlessly paying the ultimate price in the end.

Malaria

Malaria, a febrile illness, for instance, remains a major public health problem in the world, particularly in Africa, with Ghana inclusive. Statistics available indicates that about 3.2 billion people, almost half of the world’s population, are at risk of malaria. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the disease and bear a heavy brunt.

Malaria is a number one killer disease in many developing countries. For instance, information sourced from the portal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates that in 2020, malaria caused an estimated 241 million clinical episodes, plus 627,000 deaths and that an estimated 95 per cent of the deaths in 2020 were in the WHO African Region.

Also disturbing is that fact that nearly half the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria transmission in 87 countries and territories.

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), in 2019, malaria accounted for 42.8 per cent of Outpatient Department (OPD) cases, 22.2 per cent of inpatients admissions and 1.1 per cent of inpatient deaths in Ghana.

Similarly, in 2020, malaria accounted for 41 per cent of OPD cases in Ghana and also 21 per cent of all admissions in Ghana is due to malaria.

In 2021, there were 12 million suspected malaria cases in Ghana out of which 5.7 million were confirmed. Ghana also recorded 275 deaths in the same year. In 2016, a total of 590 under-five children died from malaria in Ghana.

Even though malaria is preventable and treatable, late reporting of cases at health facilities for proper diagnostics and treatment oftentimes lead to death in many instances.

NTDs

Just as malaria is wreaking havoc on many people in Africa, neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) also remain a serious public health problem in Ghana. This is because Ghana is endemic to five NTDs—Lymphatic Filariasis, Onchocerciasis, Schistomiasis, Soil Transmitted Helminths, and Trachoma.

Ghana Health Service, for instance, says that lymphatic Filariasis commonly known as elephantiasis is endemic in 114 districts out of the total 260 districts in Ghana, with 11 districts serving as hotspots for the disease. Similarly, the disease is also endemic in 12 out of the 16 regions of Ghana.

Onchocerciasis on the other hand is endemic in 137 districts out of the 260 districts in Ghana, with Schistomiasis, and Soil Transmitted Helminths present in all the districts in Ghana.

The Programme Manager of Ghana’s National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), Dr. Keziah Malm is of the conviction that a more concerted effort is required to fight malaria and NTDs in Ghana.

For her, Ghana is on the right course to eliminating malaria and NTDs by 2030 if right resources are deployed to fight the two major endemic diseases in Ghana.

“If we have the right resources despite the challenges we are facing now, we will be able to reduce the disease,” she noted in an interview.

Dr. Joseph Kwadwo Larbi Opare, the Deputy Programme Manager in charge of NTDs under the Disease Control Department of the Public Health Division of the Ghana Health Service agrees with Dr. Malm that more concerted efforts are needed to fight both malaria and NTDs in Ghana and Africa as whole.

This is because, according to him, among the major challenges impeding the fight against malaria and NTDs are the issues of funding, education, personnel, infrastructure, and lack of adoption of multi-sectoral approaches.

“March to Kigali” campaign

It is based on the challenges many African countries face in the fight against malaria and NTDs that the Speak Up Africa, a not-for-profit advocacy and policy action think tank based in Dakar, Senegal, and a group of like-minded civil-society organisations in West Africa, have launched the “March to Kigali” campaign to help fight the diseases.

The “March to Kigali” campaign aims to increase political and private sector engagements as well as to bring to the table more civil society organisations to galvanise a movement ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of State Summit (CHOGM) in Kigali in June, 2022.

The campaign builds on the existing partnerships and platforms of the "No to NTDs" and ”Zero Malaria Starts With Me" campaigns, and aims to foster the commitments needed to achieve the elimination of these diseases by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The campaign engages English and French speaking African countries to ensure that the momentum generated by the CHOGM's pre-campaign advocacy efforts is not limited to Commonwealth African countries, as all African countries are directly affected by these diseases.

What is more striking about the “March to Kigali” campaign is the fact that it is a campaign led mainly by civil society organisations working in public health, specifically around the fight against NTDs and malaria.

Ghana launch

Ghana on Thursday, April 7, 2022, launched the "March to Kigali" campaign in Accra. The campaign has so far been launched in Guinea, Senegal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Benin.

The Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa, Yacine Djibo, believes that ending epidemics such as malaria and NTDs will help to lay a foundation for a brighter future for all, particularly those in Africa.

She has therefore called on all, particularly CSOs, the private sector and African governments, to join the campaign in order to achieve the overall purpose of the “March to Kigali” campaign.

“We are honored to have so many passionate and committed partners and champions in so many countries across the African continent, and so I today call on all to join us on the “March to Kigali”, to declare “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” and “No to NTDs”, and demand that our representatives prioritize the ending of these epidemics in order to lay a foundation for a brighter future for all,” the Speak Up Africa boss is quoted to have said at the launch of the “March to Kigali” campaign.

Ghana welcomes initiative

Dr. Paul Boateng from the National Malaria Control Programme of the Ghana Health Service also welcomes the “March to Kigali” campaign, expressing the optimism that the campaign will help to maintain the gains as well as to improve performance made by the Ghana Health Service in the fight against malaria and NTDs.

“We have shown that given the right resources we are able to achieve results,” he said, adding “We have made progress within challenging operating environment.”

For him, the Ghana Health Service will need the support of the “March to Kigali” campaign to implement activities so as to help achieve best possible outcomes, saying “That is why we welcome the March to Kigali.”

The Executive Secretary of the African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN), Dr. Charity Binka, said while NTDs and malaria are entirely preventable and treatable diseases, they continue to be a major obstacle to economic and social development in Africa, affecting the most marginalised populations.

AMMREN is a network of African journalists and scientists working together to reduce the burden of malaria in Africa is one of the local partners working with Speak Up Africa to spearhead the campaign in Ghana.

Dr. Binka said the campaign will help to sustain public knowledge and practices in malaria prevention at all levels, stressing that since year 2000, malaria deaths have fallen by 50 per cent, but progress has slowed in recent years.

She said malaria and NTDs are responsible for thousands of preventable deaths each year, and that NTDs affect more than 1.5 billion people worldwide whilst there are still more than 200 million malaria cases per year.

For the AMMREN boss, the “March to Kigali” campaign seeks to promote an integrated approach to advocating for the elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and malaria in Africa.