The World Malaria Report released recently bore both good and bad news.
According to the study, malaria deaths declined and disease surveillance improved in many countries. However, global funding for malaria control and elimination flatlined, slowing down the tremendous gains achieved in recent years.
In Kenya, we still have work to do with 3.5 million people infected with the disease last year and 10,780 dying from it. In Kwale County for example, there were 282,000 cases of malaria reported in 2015, accounting for almost a quarter of all outpatient visits to county health facilities.
These figures show the scale of the fight against malaria, but it’s also important to focus on the human aspect. Specifically, the impact of increasing access to effective tools and treatments that combat malaria and strengthening our health systems.
Like many of my fellow citizens, my family and I have experienced the horrible effects of malaria. My six-year-old daughter recently got infected which led to her missing school for an entire week. Though she survived, not everyone is lucky.
Malaria takes a toll on families and has significant economic impact. Each case of malaria is estimated to cost Kenya’s health system Sh 10,000, and often leads to a week or more of missed work or school days. A recent study by Robert Mudida of Strathmore University reports that very poor households lose approximately 20 per cent of their monthly income to malaria treatment.
As the Kwale County Assembly Clerk, I have seen firsthand the social and economic impacts of letting malaria go unchecked in our county. Moreover, through training by Malaria No More, a non -profit organization, I learnt more about what we can do to help fellow citizens avoid the negative impacts of malaria.
Kwale County Assembly allocated Sh10 million in the 2017/18 budget to improve efforts to control and treat malaria, and lessen its impact on families and communities. This is the first time that a specific budget has been assigned to address malaria in our county.
The funds will be used to purchase mosquito bed nets for Kwale’s children who are away at boarding school. These children typically don’t have bed nets and are among Kenya’s most vulnerable. Prevalence of malaria in Kenya is highest in children aged 10-14 years old, a factor that causes children to miss significant school time and sometimes leads to more serious debilitating medical issues.
By investing in protecting our children from deadly mosquito bites, we can keep them healthy and able to learn more effectively. This means they can reap the benefits of attending school, ultimately affecting their ability to earn a living over their lifetime. Keeping children healthy also benefits their families, enabling parents to go to work and reduce the need to spend their wages on malaria treatment and healthcare.
Busia County Assembly also chose to do more to increase access to life-saving malaria control measures. However, Kwale and Busia are just two of 13 counties with the highest malaria burden. We need our coastal and lake zone neighbours – Kilifi, Mombasa, Lamu, Taita Taveta, Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Homa Bay, Vihiga, Kakamega and Bungoma to allocate funds specifically to improve access to tools that control malaria and save thousands of lives.
At national level, the government can also play an important role in ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to protect our citizens from malaria deaths and illness.
The National Treasury can allocate funds specifically for malaria control by creating a malaria-specific budget item. This would ensure that sufficient funds go to malaria control efforts. Additionally, by increasing access to information about the national budget to the public, the Treasury can improve transparency in the health budget so that the public is better informed about these issues.
The fight against malaria is winnable. We can protect our children and Kenya’s most vulnerable against this disease, and ensure that our communities are not held back by its devastating effects. Kwale and Busia counties are committed to doing their part in this fight. Now we need others to join us.
The writer is the Clerk, Kwale County Assembly