The war against malaria in Kenya has received a major boost following the launch of cross-border malaria control and prevention interventions at the Kenya-Uganda border in Busia County.
The launch which took place at Akiriamas Primary School in Teso South Sub County, under the banner of the Great Lakes Malaria Initiative (GLMI) seeks to eliminate malaria in the Great Lakes region in a coordinated manner for better outcomes.
The strategy which will prioritize working with and supporting community-led initiatives within the region’s borders will also involve distribution of bed nets, indoor residual spraying and implementation of other critical malaria control interventions to achieve maximum impact.
In Kenya, the initiative targets the lake region endemic counties of Migori, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Vihiga, Siaya, Busia and parts of Bungoma and Kakamega.
Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of Health Rashid Aman, led his Rwandan counterpart, Minister of State in charge of Primary Health Care Tharcisse Mpunga, and Uganda’s State Minister for Health in charge of General Duties, Anifa Kawooya in the launch.
Aman said the initiative provides a unique opportunity to East Africa Community (EAC) member states to engage in joint efforts and strengthen cross-border collaboration in order to eliminate malaria while building on the respective country efforts.
He said, “The launch recognizes that as EAC member states, none of us is an island and that malaria does not recognize administrative borders.
“Malaria is spread across borders by movement of both mosquitoes and persons infected with the parasite hence it is becoming more evident that malaria needs to be tackled at a regional level, since country efforts have not produced the desired outcome.
“From the experience and lessons learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, we need ever more than before to be prepared to deal jointly with the above emerging issues that will surely present full blown challenges in time,” noted Aman.
He revealed that although countries made remarkable efforts to mitigate malaria prevention and treatment service disruptions due to COVID-19, deaths due to malaria still rose by 12 percent during the pandemic.
He said the EAC countries namely Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania contribute a significant proportion of malaria burden worldwide.
“In 2017, the EAC region contributed 24.7 percent of all reported malaria cases worldwide and 10.2 percent of deaths in the world,” he said.
Aman underscored the need to harmonize and synchronize implementation of various malaria control interventions among the EAC member states if the GLMI strategy which envisions a malaria-free Africa Great Lakes Region is to be achieved.
“This can be achieved by establishing and sustaining regional coordination, partnership and accountability mechanisms. It also calls upon us to establish centers of excellence on malaria control and elimination,” he noted.
Kawooya said the launch is a milestone in strengthening Regional Corporation towards eliminating malaria in the Great Lakes Region.
“Uganda is proud to align itself with the efforts of the Great Lakes Malaria Initiative in the East African Community region to jointly ensure that the battle against malaria is won.
“Without proper surveillance, preparedness and response mechanisms across our borders the pandemics will continue to cross over our countries as we have many things in common. We also ought to have a proper information management system and well-kept cross-border data,” he said.
Kawooya noted that EAC countries need to establish regional centers of excellence in regards to elimination of cross-borders pandemics, emphasizing, the fight against malaria should start at the breeding sites hence, the need to spread awareness on the role of larviciding.
Mpunga lauded the EAC for embracing the GLMI saying countries in the region need to rethink their approach towards eliminating malaria and apply more effective strategies.
Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong through a speech read by the County Executive Committee Member for Health and Sanitation Phaustine Barasa, said malaria remains the highest disease burden in the county with a prevalence of between 38.5 and 40 percent.
He noted that children under five years and expectant mothers were the most affected in 2021 with 2 per cent of deaths resulting from the disease.
Ojaamong noted that despite the financial challenges, the county health department is implementing several control interventions including mass bed net distribution, malaria vaccination in the three sub counties of Samia, Butula, and Nambale and malaria case management.
“We have surveillance, monitoring and evaluation that is creating demand for data use in decision making. Additionally, we have advocacy for more allocation of resources for malaria intervention and continuous education for behaviour change.
He lauded the role played by partners including USAID, Global Fund, Living Goods and Amref, adding that the County has also enjoyed support from the Kenyan Cuban bilateral agreement on larval source management.
Also present during the launch included the Cuban Ambassador to Kenya, Juan Manuel Rodriguez, and Siaya Governor, Cornel Rasanga.
Rasanga cautioned locals against the perception that malaria is caused by witchcraft, urging parents to take their children to hospital to get treatment immediately they fall sick.
Willis Akwale who represented the Kenya End Malaria Council chair Christopher Gitonga, stated that for the first time, the council has been able to mobilize resources to combat malaria and Busia will be the first beneficiary.
“We have identified the real need here in Busia because of the high incidence of malaria. 200 out of 1000 persons who visit health facilities and get tested for malaria across the county are carrying the parasite. The council is therefore going to support the use of drones to reach places that are hard to reach or have very large breeding sites for mosquitoes,” he said.
Malaria remains a major public health concern in Kenya with a survey released by the Ministry of Health last year indicating that the overall prevalence rate of the disease had reduced from 8 percent in 2015 to 5.6 percent in 2020.
Besides being the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, the disease is listed among the top 10 causes of outpatient visits countrywide. The disease burden however remains the highest in the Lake Region counties, which account for 70 per cent of the 6.5 million cases nationally.
Although the counties bear the highest disease burden, this has reduced from 27 percent in 2015 to 19 percent in 2020.
The World Malaria Report 2019 estimated that about 228 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2018, with 93 percent occurring in Africa. During the same year, an estimated 400, 000 deaths were reported globally out of which 90 percent occurred in Africa.