African health ministers outline plans to tackle malnutrition, malaria

Malnourished child (Photo Credit: Sunday Alamba)
Malnourished child (Photo Credit: Sunday Alamba)

Strategic plans to reduce the double burden of malnutrition and malaria in the African region are being fashioned out at the 69th Regional Committee meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO) holding in the Congo Republic.

The committee meeting is the highest decision-making body on health in Africa and involves ministers of health from the Member States of the WHO African Region.

The delegates have been meeting in Brazzaville, the Republic of Congo since Monday.

They meet once a year to review critical health issues affecting the continent and to advise on appropriate strategies to improve health outcomes.

Development of a strategic plan to reduce malnutrition in the African region is one of the major issues discussed at the five-day meeting.

Malnutrition

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, in a press statement on the event, said “The plan outlines the urgent and accelerated action that we must take if we are to meet our goal of ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030.

Ms Moeti said the WHO Secretariat will be developing and implementing a resource-mobilisation plan, supporting research collaborations and mounting high-level advocacy for increased investment to reach 90 per cent coverage of the 10 highest-impact nutrition interventions that must be taken to meet the malnutrition challenges in the region.

Africa is a major contributor to the childhood malnutrition burden globally. Nigeria has the highest burden in sub-Saharan Africa followed closely by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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The number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa rose from 181 million in 2010 to almost 222 million in 2016.

The increasing rate of malnutrition in the region is due to multiple factors including land and crop degradation, periodic droughts and weather-related shocks, poverty, limited access to basic food staples and essential services, and population growth.

Although the prevalence of stunting decreased from 38.3 per cent in 2000 to 30.3 per cent in 2017 among children younger than five years, the numbers increased from 50.6 million to 58.7 million due to population growth.

The rate of ‘wasting’ in 2017 was 7.1 per cent, or 13.8 million children younger than five years, of whom four million were severely wasted.

Strategy

The strategic plan, which includes targets to be achieved by 2025, aims to strengthen evidence-based policies and national capacity to implement them.

Priority interventions include reinforcing legislation and food-safety standards, using fiscal measures to incentivise healthy food choices and integrating essential nutrition actions in health service delivery platforms.

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Ms Moeti, at the meeting, said: “the extraordinary push to improve access to case management services for vector-borne diseases and reduce disease transmission through protective interventions, has made the continent lose sight of disease surveillance and research.”

She recalled that effective vector control along with stronger diagnosis and case management reduced the malaria cases and deaths in the WHO African Region between 2000 and 2015.

Ms Moeti said as the region continued the needed investment in treatment and provided treated bed nets and indoor spraying to bring down the number of people dying, “many vectors changed their known behaviours”.

“Mosquitoes, for example, known to bite indoors, began biting people outdoors. The surveillance and evaluation of the evolutionary changes and associated research lagged and thus failed to keep pace.

“Now that we have exhausted our arsenal of interventions and the vectors are gaining an upper hand, and we have to do things differently,” she said.

According to a press statement, the adopted plan, in the form of the Framework on the Implementation of the Global Vector Control Response, is a significant recalibration of how to bring vector-borne diseases under control.

Action plan

The officials agreed that many of these diseases are preventable through informed protective measures.

The new action plan adopted by ministers is expected to find the last protective measure to prevent further transmission of the diseases on the continent.

The framework contains 10 priorities for reducing the burden and threat of vector-borne diseases in the WHO African Region.

This will be achieved through locally adapted and sustainable practices targeting mosquitoes as well as snails, black flies, sand flies, Tsetse flies, ticks, fleas and copepods.

The statement also said these new techniques are quite different from the previously used approach of controlling the vector-borne transmitters.

Burden

The African region has a troubling high burden of vector-borne diseases, primarily malaria, yellow fever, dengue and schistosomiasis. While the risk of transmission for Zika virus disease remains high, information on incidence and trends of the disease is limited.

Globally, vector-borne diseases account for more than 17 per cent of all infectious diseases causing more than 700,000 deaths annually.

Malaria is one of the most severe global public health problems worldwide, particularly Africa.

According to WHO’s 2017 global factsheet on malaria, five countries accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide: Nigeria 25 per cent, Democratic Republic of Congo 11 per cent, Mozambique 5 per cent, India four per cent and Uganda four per cent.

Meanwhile, 10 WHO Member States with the highest burden of malaria (of which Nigeria tops the chart) reported an estimated 3.5 million more malaria cases in 2017 than the previous year.

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