UHAS marked World Malaria Day this year with a Zoom symposium on 27 April that saw a panel of malaria experts addressing about 150 stakeholders from the health sector and academia on the theme “Zero malaria – Draw the line against malaria”. This year’s theme sought to unify and build on the “Zero malaria starts with me” movement and the “Draw the line against malaria” youth-focused campaign. Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Seth Owusu-Agyei of UHAS chaired the two-hour-long session.
Professor Evelyn Ansah, Director of the Centre for Malaria Research (CMR) at the Institute of Health Research (IHR) called for more stakeholder engagement and action in eradicating the malaria menace in Ghana. She noted that despite the fact that significant progress has been made in reducing malaria prevalence, this preventable and treatable disease continues to claim more lives and “affect livelihoods.”
She said, if Ghana is to draw the line against malaria and eradicate it, then universities and health training institutions have key roles to play. Training institutions could help by providing good quality pre-service training of the health work force where, among other interventions, trainers and training curricula are kept updated with changes in policy and practice, which are important for good quality service delivery.
Professor Ansah also advised these institutions to prioritize innovation and research in which clinical trials determine the efficacy of drugs and other commodities for malaria control and elimination, and called on government to provide funding for this critical academic role where basic science and product development are part of the curriculum.
“We need all hands on deck in the march towards elimination and we must leave no one behind,” she said.
Dr. Keziah Malm, Programme Manager of the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), lamented about how malaria, as a public health issue, continues to put the entire country of Ghana at risk, making it one of the ten sub-Saharan countries noted for high malaria prevalence. In 2020 alone, Ghana recorded 41 percent suspected outpatient cases, 21 percent confirmed cases and 18 percent inpatient cases, resulting in the highest expenditure in the National Health Insurance Scheme and burdening the country economically.
She also said that although there had been major strides made in the past toward achieving the mortality target, not much progress has been made in reducing malaria cases. Between 2012 and 2020, malaria related deaths of all ages dropped by 89 percent while 28 percent reduction was recorded for malaria cases. The country still remains in the “malaria control phase” of reducing malaria morbidity and mortality to a locally acceptable level. This has resulted in the formulation of the Malaria Strategic Plan 2021-2025, which states that by 2025, using 2019 as the baseline, malaria cases should reduce by 50 percent, malaria mortality by 90 percent, as well as achieve malaria pre-elimination in at least six districts.
Dr. Senanu Djokoto, Deputy Director of Public Health at the Volta Regional Health Directorate also cited how malaria in pregnant women, which is preventable, continues to have adverse effects on mothers, foetuses and newborns, noting that “pregnancy makes women four times more likely to get malaria and two times more likely to die from the disease.”
He said because the Region’s drive towards zero malaria among pregnant women is a major priority, the Volta Regional Health Directorate has taken steps to improve access to Intermittent Preventive Treatment with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (IPTp-SP) services at the CHPS level by building the capacity of health officers, deployment of midwives to CHPS zones, and community sensitization, among others. To ensure that both mothers and babies are safe, his outfit continues to promote the use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) among these women, administering of IPTp-SP, and pushing for appropriate case management through prompt and effective treatment. This, he said, has resulted in the reduction of malaria in pregnancy in the Volta region from 10.64 per cent in 2017 to 8.10 percent in 2020. Nonetheless, he added, intervention was beset with challenges, notably low awareness among pregnant women about the importance of SP, misinformation and misconception about the SP and ITNs.
During the live Zoom programme, UHAS Vice Chancellor Professor John Gyapong launched the UHAS Malaria Newsletter, a collaborative effort between CMR, NMCP and GHS to disseminate the most current information on malaria policy and practice to the UHAS community, other training institutions and health providers. Download the newsletter here.
As part of the celebrations, IHR also organised a day’s symposium on malaria the next day for students of Adaklu Waya E.P. Junior High School, by way of involving the youth in the fight against the disease.
Dr. Matilda Aberese-Ako, a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute, who led the team that included Dr. Desmond Klu, told the students that as leaders, they are change agents who could help effect the changes needed to fight this menace. The students displayed knowledge about the disease, touching on some attitudes in their communities that tend to hinder the fight, and pledged to sensitise their families.