Bolgatanga, April 5, GNA - Malaria is one of the major diseases that drain the coffers of many developing national economies, especially those in Africa, with Ghana being a prime sufferer.
Research indicates that each day, about 3000 people die from malarial cases, while annually one million people die from the disease. Eighty percent of malarial cases and 90 per cent of deaths are recorded in Africa.
According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), malaria is the number one cause of morbidity, accounting for about 32.5% of all outpatient illnesses, 35.9% of all admissions, and 30.3% of all deaths in children under age five.
Between 3.1 and 3.5 million cases of clinical malaria are reported in public health facilities each year of which 900,000 cases are in children under five years.
Costs of medications and hospital visits, reduction in productively at work, home and in other socio-economic activities, combine to drain the coffers of the victim, their families and national economies.
Indeed, at a recent training programme for journalists on Malaria Reporting, organized by the National Malarial Control Programme (NMCP) in the Upper East, Mr James Frimpong of the NMCP stated that Malaria accounts for 10% of Africa\'s disease burden.
According to him, the direct and indirect cost of malaria to Africa exceeds US$2 billion a year. Malaria also reduces the annual economic growth rate by 1.3%.
Fortunately, he says malaria is an avoidable tragedy and deaths associated with it could be cut in half with affordable solutions currently available. \"We can get much more out of existing medicines, tools and strategies.\"
Malaria transmission occurs year-round with seasonal differences during the rainy season. Deaths occur because of lack of access to health care, life-saving drugs and insecticide - treated bed nets.
Malaria related deaths are very dangerous to the growth of the economy of Ghana and should not be allowed to continue. There is the need for all stakeholders especially management and editors of Media Houses to complement the NMCP at tackling this problem which is eating deeply into the Ghanaian economy.
One may pause to ask who are more vulnerable to malaria. In fact Medical practitioners indicate that Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.
Malaria is responsible for one out of every four childhood deaths in Africa. These childhood deaths often occur within two days of developing symptoms. Women are four times likely to get sick from malaria if they are pregnant and twice likely to die from the disease.
What then is Malaria? Though many people have had experiences with malaria, a great number of people also have misconceptions about the disease.
According to health experts malaria is an acute disease of the blood caused by a parasite called plasmodium. The disease presents fever, chills and profuse sweating. It can be classified as uncomplicated or severe depending on the patients\' immunity level species of parasite and the presence of any of other disease, such as malnutrition and anaemia.
It could also be accidentally transmitted through blood transfusions or through injections with blood contaminated by the malaria parasites. However, it is commonly transmitted or spread naturally through the bite of an infected female anopheles mosquito.
Health experts indicate that there are two main anopheles mosquito species which spread malaria in Ghana - Anopheles Gambia and anopheles funestus. They are all over the country and transmission is throughout the year. Transmission is greatest after the rains set in and when a lot more water bodies like those in pot holes, excavations, ponds etc are seen around.
The breeding places also include small collections of sea page water or rain pools which are stagnant and often muddy, but not polluted, in full or partial sunlight, temporary stagnant waters and rain pools, overflow water, road side ditches, natural depressions and foot/hoof prints, pot holes, rice fields, tidal swamps; semi permanent stagnant waters along streams, rivers among others.
Everybody in Ghana can get malaria but children under five years of age and pregnant women are more affected.
According to heath experts, symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, chills and vomiting and if not treated promptly with effective medicines, it could cause severe illness, which is often fatal.
They suggest that people, especially pregnant women and children, should patronize Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs).
ITNs break the man-vector contact. They create a barrier and therefore prevent malaria transmission. ITNS kill the mosquitoes in due course when they make contact with the net.
It has been observed that the higher the number of people using ITNS in a community, the higher and faster the rate of reduction in the number of mosquitoes hence reduction in malarial cases. Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) should also be encouraged. Spraying must be at the right rime, on the right surfaces and with the required dosage and at adequate intervals of time. This would help curtail the life span of vectors throughout the entire transmission periods.
Intermittent Preventive Treatment for Pregnant women (IPTP) with Sulfadoxine - Pyrimethamine (SP) is encouraged among pregnant women.
There is the need for all pregnant women to attend antenatal clinics, undertake early visits and often, so they can keep their babies healthy and get three directly observed doses of SP at least once month each. This is very effective in protecting the pregnant woman and the unborn baby from Malaria.
SP should not be taken on empty stomach, however. For women who are allergic to SP, they should take additional preventive measures and ensure they sleep under LLIN every night.
Early treatment of malaria would help shorten its duration, prevent complications and avoid a number of deaths.
The \"Count Malaria Out\" campaign from World Malaria Day 2010 called on malaria endemic countries, including Ghana, partners and donors to put extra efforts into comprehensively tracking progress along the way towards universal coverage.
There is the need for all citizens, including traditional rulers, politicians, opinion leaders and media practitioners to help champion the cause of minimizing it if not weeding out malaria cases completely. Media Owners and Journalists should see it as a responsibility by devoting much of their airtime to help fight malaria instead of wasting most of their air time discussing unhealthy issues that cannot bring any meaningful development.
The Ghana Behaviour Change Support (BCS) Project, which is a four-year USAID supported project being implemented in three regions in the country - Greater Accra, Western and Central in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service (GHS) is there to strengthen and improve behaviour change communication support as well as the infrastructure and capacity for behaviour change communication to control and prevent malaria.
Traditional rulers, politicians, opinion leaders and community members could fall on the BCS project for the necessary assistants to help curb malaria which is taking huge chunk of Ghana\'s economy. Monies that would have been spent in fighting malaria could have been used for other development project to help improve livelihoods.
The overall purpose of the BCS project is to support the GHS at the national, regional and district levels in its efforts to achieve its health and health related millennium development goals through sustained and coherent behaviour change communication interventions.
In fact, one key organization that is successfully pursuing malaria prevention and control is the Anglican Diocesan Development Organization (ADDRO). Its programme is jointly funded by the USAID and the Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD); a charity organization with its African Office in Ghana is making enormous impact in the fight against malaria.
ADDRO has about six offices in six regions in the country, namely the Upper East where its National Secretariat is located, the Western, Upper West, Eastern and Northern regions.
The organization is relying on its Behaviour Change Communication strategy to get to hard to reach communities to persuade community members to appreciate the need to change and adopt certain behaviours in order to prevent and control malaria.
It basically engages community members in massive education on identifying breeding places of mosquitoes and destroying these places, home care management of malaria, the use of LLINs, and the use of IPT and IPTp among others.
It is therefore proper that individuals and organizations emulate the activities of ADDRO to count malaria out and get people\'s health up and the economy booming.
A GNA FEATURE BY SAMUEL ADADI AKAPULE