In Nigeria’s Borno State, malaria is currently claiming more lives than all other diseases combined. Children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable. WHO recently launched a special campaign in this state aimed at rapidly reducing the malaria burden among young children and, at the same time, protecting them against polio.
The 8-year conflict in north-eastern Nigeria has fuelled a surge in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with limited access to basic medical care. In Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, two-thirds of health facilities are completely or partially destroyed leaving millions at risk of life-threatening diseases. According to WHO estimates, malaria is the number one killer in the region, accounting for about 50% of all reported deaths.
In July 2017, WHO teamed with the Borno State Ministry of Health on the launch of a special initiative aimed at swiftly reducing the toll of malaria on children under 5. The campaign was timed to coincide with peak malaria transmission season, which typically runs through November.
Through the campaign, approximately 1.2 million children in Borno State are receiving monthly rounds of antimalarial medicines. Community health workers are administering the medicines to all children in targeted areas, regardless of whether or not they show symptoms of malaria.
At the same time, children are receiving the oral polio vaccine. In August 2016, 4 new cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) were reported in Borno State, the first WPV1 strain detected in Nigeria since 2014. The Government of Nigeria launched an aggressive outbreak response conducted within the broader humanitarian emergency and coordinated with neighbouring countries across the Lake Chad basin.
This campaign in Borno State is benefiting from WHO’s well developed network of polio vaccinators who have extensive experience reaching vulnerable children, including in areas that are difficult to access. WHO’s health emergency teams are supporting the effort by procuring, airlifting and distributing the monthly rounds of antimalarial medicines.
Beyond this time-limited campaign, WHO and partners are working to prevent malaria among at-risk populations through the distribution of bed nets and the spraying of homes with insecticides. Boosting access to treatment and strengthening surveillance systems are other key areas of focus in the region.