When the Nigeria Malaria Control Program changes its name to Nigeria Malaria Elimination Program (NMEP) a few years ago, people wondered whether this was getting too far ahead of the situation in one of the highest burden malaria countries in the world. The recently released Framework for Malaria Elimination by the Global Malaria Program of WHO shows that all endemic countries can fit into the elimination process.
The Framework stresses that, “Every country can accelerate progress towards elimination through evidence-based strategies, regardless of the current intensity of transmission and the malaria burden they may carry.” The Three pillars of the malaria elimination framework have room for high burden countries. Pillar 1 states that, “Ensure universal access to malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”
First it is important to understand that the Framework defines malaria elimination as the cessation of indigenous mosquito-borne transmission of malaria throughout a country. The Framework also observes that even within countries there are diverse transmission areas. Some are not amenable to malaria transmission, while others may be amenable but do not experience transmission.
It is important to realize that malaria transmission in most countries is characterized by diversity and complexity. Areas where transmission is occurring range from very low transmission zones where hotspots erupt to high levels of ongoing transmission. Thus even high burden countries may have variation that require development of intervention packages tailored to the specific transmission setting.
This stratification and development of appropriate intervention packages requires, “Excellent surveillance and response are the keys to achieving and maintaining malaria elimination; information systems must become increasingly ‘granular’ to allow identification, tracking, classification and response for all malaria cases (e.g. imported, introduced, indigenous).” This should lead to “subnational elimination targets as internal milestones.”
For high burden countries key components of Pillar 1 is, “Vector control strategies, such as use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs/LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), together with case management (prompt access to diagnosis and effective treatment) are critical for reducing malaria morbidity and mortality, and reducing malaria transmission.”
Recommendations like ensuring political commitment, private sector involvement and establishment of an independent advisory committee are valuable at all stages of elimination. A challenge for high burden countries will be maintaining political commitment over many years. Early involvement of the private sector will boost coverage of major interventions. An independent advisory/monitoring group will help track data and progress.
It is important to put in place good monitoring systems to ensure that program coverage is well targeted, achieved and maintained. “Systematic tracking of programme actions over time, including budget allocations and adherence to standard operating procedures.” This enables accountability and enhances political commitment.
Finally the Malaria Atlas Project has mapped most recent data, and as we can see Nigeria does have a variety of transmission settings. We know now that the decision of Nigeria’s malaria program to update its name was appropriate. Hopefully not only the NMEP but also the various state malaria programs will look at their malaria transmission strata and plan according toward elimination.