In Jigawa State, WHO backs malaria research

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting a recent move by the Jigawa State Government to sponsor research on malaria, a preventable but persistent disease in Nigeria.

On a recent weekday, WHO officials toured and certified for use a new Entomological Surveillance Site located at the Federal University Dutse (FUD), a state-funded research institution. The site was completed last year and will be open to research on mosquitoes – the vector responsible for spreading the malaria disease – and similar vectors.

Caused by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito, malaria is a life-threatening disease affecting all ages. Infants, children under the age of five and pregnant women are considered vulnerable to the disease. 

Although preventable, treatable and curable, malaria has a global spread with an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019, and an annual death toll of about 409,000 people. One in every four malaria cases comes from Nigeria. 

“By fighting malaria, you are helping parents, reducing their burden and helping them to save on spending and on time,” said the WHO northwest zonal coordinator and national malaria officer, Dr Jalal-Eddeen Saleh. The WHO officer was on a state mission to assess Jigawa State’s preparedness for the high transmission season. 

An upcoming treated insecticide net distribution project and malaria-prevention drug drive targeting kids are in full swing as the mosquito season closes in. But studying and understanding the origins of the disease like the FUD site aims to achieve, Dr Saleh said, is also a crucial part of the malaria eradication fight in the state.

Entomological Surveillance Sites are laboratories dedicated solely to the study of insect behaviour. The WHO, with support from the Global Fund, and in collaboration with the Nigeria Malaria Eradication Program and Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) has sited seven such sites in states across the country in the past year alone. Jigawa state is one beneficiary of that effort. 

Dr Ibrahim Fakhradeen, the deputy head of research at FUD, said malaria research is a major focus of the school and that efforts like this will motivate students. Dr Fakhradeen recently led a study on mosquitoes. His aim was to find how to make them less harmful for low- and middle-class communities where malaria is most likely to be prevalent.

There are ongoing efforts to eradicate malaria worldwide. A new vaccine is already being distributed in some African countries including neighbouring Ghana. In Nigeria, the cost-effective strategy of routinely distributing insecticidal treated nets is employed year-round. Similarly, under-five children are regularly targeted for malaria chemoprevention therapy – the administration of monthly courses of amodiaquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine to all children under five years during the rainy season, a high transmission period. 

Nigeria has recorded some success in battling the disease – Malaria prevalence steadily dropped from 42%in 2010 to 23%in 2018 according to the National Demographic Health Survey (2018). WHO supports the country’s National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP) to attain elimination status in line with the WHO Global Technical Strategy 2030 framework. 

But mosquito resistance has been on the rise globally, with 73 countries reporting resistance to one in four commonly used insecticides in 2019, prompting more action calls from the WHO and other health organizations.

Boasting an insectary and a bioassay lab – both places where mosquitoes are reared and harvested as well as studied under a microscope, the site will serve hundreds of staff and students, allowing them to readily access advanced tools for their work and boosting the chances for innovation in malaria research. 

The Vice-Chancellor of FUD, Professor Abdulkareem Sabo Mohammed, speaking on WHO’s visit, said the move to site the malaria prevention project in the university has already boosted its status among research institutions. He added that WHO’s technical support to the site is a clear indication of strengthening collaboration with the academia to achieve a malaria-free Nigeria.

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