The Gambia is set to become the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate malaria as it enters the “last mile” of its campaign to eradicate the deadly disease.
According to health experts from the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP), the prevalence of malaria in children younger than 5 years old in the West African nation has dropped to 0.02 percent from 4 percent in 2011.
The total number of new cases in the entire country has also fallen by at least 40 percent, with only 155,450 new cases reported in 2016.
The Gambian government hopes to achieve the milestone of having no new malaria cases by the year 2020, but meager donor funding is proving to be a major impediment.
NMCP’s chairman Balla Kandeh told Reuters on Thursday that the program already has a deficit of $25 million.
“This last mile is the most difficult – we need more support to sustain the gains we have made, yet donors often turn their attention elsewhere as cases drop,” said Kandeh.
He also warned that malaria rates in the country could rebound if the current lack of financial support persists.
He is hopeful, though, that the Gambia’s new government under President Adama Barrow will win back the confidence of donors after many left during the previous autocratic regime.
Kandeh said the new president has created a better working environment, with less constraints and improved political certainty.
“The fear of the unknown has gone,” Kandeh said.
Using Technology To Combat Malaria
In addition to traditional control methods, such as anti-malaria drugs, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and indoor spraying, the Gambian government has successfully employed technology to tackle the deadly disease.
Health experts in the country are using tablets, online platforms, and GPS to monitor the delivery of malaria prevention services across the country, with real-time data making it easier for them to come up with quick and effective solutions.
Internet providers in the country have also boosted their bandwidth to facilitate a sustainable flow of information.
Originally, many people thought malaria was caused by foul air in marshy areas, but in the 1880s, scientists discovered that the disease was transmitted from person-to-person by the anopheles mosquito through a one-cell parasite called “plasmodium.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the African region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden, with studies showing that the region was home to 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths in 2015.