By: RBM Partnership to End Malaria
“If you say children are the future, then we should actually protect the future,” says Lagos-based Dr Jibola. Too many times, he has seen parents bringing their children to the hospital and being told that their child had already reached cerebral malaria, their early lives stamped with a future of suffering, from regression in milestones to permanent impairments. Nothing could motivate Dr Ajibola Ojikutu (who goes by Dr Jibola) more to do his part in strengthening health systems through community outreach and advocacy and lending his voice and experience of both living and working as a doctor in a malaria-endemic country.
In Nigeria, where Dr Jibola works as a Senior Medical Officer within the Lagos State Health Service, he sees first-hand an abundance of malaria cases presenting in the very late stages of the disease. The avoidable and preventable nature of malaria through simple measures such as the use of mosquito nets, education about the disease, and encouraging people to seek medical help early on, makes these late stage cases all the more tragic. Having worked in different hospitals from primary to tertiary care centres, Dr Jibola observes several gaps in support towards the prevention and treatment of malaria, including insufficient distribution of nets to rural areas in Nigeria, mothers in antenatal care not sufficiently protected with nets and Intermittent Preventive Treatment for malaria in pregnancy (IPTp).
Now, with COVID-19 taking center stage of the world’s media and medical efforts, there is a strain on malaria-related work and interventions. Malaria patients are often too afraid to visit clinics for fear that they could be labelled as suspected COVID-19 cases, and only come into the hospital when their symptoms have severely progressed. By this stage, some patients face suffering long-term damage and impairment to their health.
Dr Jibola stresses that just as we wear masks as preventive measures during COVID-19, the same attention and diligence is needed to protect ourselves against malaria. “Looking at the cases that come to the hospital now, we are seeing a lot of severe cases of malaria during this pandemic, and it is mostly due to the fact that the cardinal symptom of COVID-19 is fever, which is also what you see in malaria cases.” He further states that it takes a certain mindset to look out for malaria when you have a case of COVID-19, and that “those that we think have COVID-19, the majority of them could actually just have malaria and [identifying] that would help to reduce the mortality that could actually come from missing those diagnosis’.”
As the attention and resources of the medical world are stretched thin due to the pandemic, Dr Jibola reminds us that “we must not to forget that malaria has not gone anywhere, it is still here, despite the fact that we are fighting COVID-19, so we need to strike a balance.” Knowing all too well the substantial costs and far-reaching consequences of malaria, Dr Jibola stands with the Zero Malaria Starts with Me Campaign and advises that “advocacy for malaria needs to be intensified now, so that it is not neglected and we don’t have to fight the malaria epidemic later on.”
Health workers and advocates like Dr Jibola continue the fight to end malaria despite the challenges that have now escalated due to the pandemic, but this, like any other obstacle that the malaria
community has faced in its history can be overcome with our persistent dedication and advocacy to further the progress that we have made.