By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday in Abuja inaugurated a 16-member Nigeria End Malaria Council (NEMC), with Alhaji Aliko Dangote as its Chairman.
He said that the successful implementation of the Council’s agenda and savings from estimated economic burden of the disease, would save Nigeria about N687 billion in 2022 and N2 trillion by 2030.
Buhari said that beyond improving the quality of life, health and wellbeing of Nigerians, the concerted strategy to tackle malaria public health as well as socio-economic benefits for Nigeria.
He said: ‘‘Our inauguration today will, therefore, ensure that malaria elimination remains a priority on our agenda, with strong political commitment from leaders at all levels.
‘‘Additionally, the End Malaria Council will provide a platform to advocate for more funding to protect and sustain progress made so far by our country, and put us on a pathway to ending malaria for good.”
While expressing concern that the age-long disease had remained a major public health challenge in Nigeria, he cited the World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 2021 on malaria.
He quoted the report as saying that Nigeria alone accounted for 27 per cent of all cases of malaria and 32 per cent of deaths globally.
Buhari said: ‘‘Malaria infection can cause severe disease and complications in pregnant women and lead to high rate of miscarriage.
‘‘It is also responsible for a considerable proportion of deaths in infants and young children, with children under five years being the most vulnerable group affected.
“These are reasons we must not relent in fighting malaria,” he said.
Buhari explained that Dangote was chosen in recognition of his track record and passion for supporting initiatives on various health issues.
He expressed confidence that the tycoon would bring his outstanding achievements to help the country achieve its goal of malaria elimination.
The president said that a group of eminent personalities, who had also made their mark across all walks of life, had been selected to work in the council.
He added that the membership of the council reflected government’s commitment to significantly reduce the malaria burden in Nigeria.
‘‘I have been informed that the End Malaria Council (EMC) has already been established in other African countries, in line with the African Union Assembly Declaration for Establishment of EMCs in Africa.
‘‘EMCs have provided leadership, new funding and innovation to enable these countries stay on track to meet malaria burden reduction targets.
“I am optimistic that the setting up of the NEMC will do the same for Nigeria.
‘‘I must add that with the additional advocacy and funding the Council will bring to the malaria control drive, we can anticipate a reduction in the malaria burden.
“This will ensure that our children, pregnant women and, indeed, all Nigerians are shielded from the disease.
‘‘We must work together to reduce the unnecessary deaths attributable to malaria and ultimately improve the wellbeing of the citizens.
“I implore the council to ensure best practices and innovative strategies in achieving its mandate,’’ he said.
He thanked the Chairman of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, the Executive Secretary of ALMA, RBM Partnership in Nigeria for their continuous support to the Federal Ministry of Health and the malaria programme in particular.
Buhari acknowledged the contributions of the Global Fund, the United States Agency for International Development and the President’s Malaria Initiative.
He also lauded the efforts of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, UNICEF, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office and other implementing partners, as well as the private sector toward the eradication of the disease.
In separate remarks, Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire and Minister of State for Health Joseph Nkama said that since 2010, Nigeria had recorded a continuous decline in malaria from 42 per cent in 2010, 27 per cent in 2015 to 23 per cent in 2018.
They attributed the decline to the thorough implementation of the National Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP).
The said that the funding gap had impacted the implementation of the malaria programmes in Nigeria, adding that the country needed N1.89 trillion to reduce malaria prevalence and mortality by 2025.
Nkama said: ‘‘The biggest challenge confronting us, which prevents the elimination of malaria to ensure a malaria-free nation in the shortest possible time, is inadequate finances to fund the NMSP.
‘‘We are currently implementing NMSP of 2021 to 2025, with the intent to achieve a parasitic prevalence of less than 10 per cent and reduce mortality attributable to malaria to less than 50 deaths per 1,000 live births by the year 2025.
“It will take about N1.89 trillion to implement this plan.
‘‘However, in the first year of its implementation, we had an estimated deficit of over N150 billion and in 2022, we already have a deficit of over N170 billion.’’
In his remarks, Dangote thanked the president and all members of the Council for entrusting him with the enormous responsibility, pledging to work hard to achieve theassignment.
He said that the appointment had resonated his current role as the Nigerian Ambassador for Malaria.
The council members include Shehu Ibrahim, Permanent Secretary, Office of the Vice President on Political and Economic Affairs, and Gov. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Other are Sen. Yahaya Oloriegbe, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Rep. Abubakar Dahiru, Chairman, House Committee on AIDS, TB and Malaria, Dr Ehanire, Nkama, Mahmuda Mamman, Permanent Secretary, Federal Minister of Health.
Others include Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Board of Directors, UBA, Folurunsho Alakija, CEO, Rose of Sharon Group, Herbert Wigwe, CEO, Access Bank, Femi Otedola, CEO Forte Oil and Hajiya Lami Lau, President, National Council of Women Societies.
Other members are John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Emertius Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Alhaja Rafiyat Sanni, National Amira, Federation of Muslim Women Nigeria (FOWAN) and Dr Perpetua Uhomoibhi, NEMC Secretariat/National Coordinator, National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP).