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Malaria: Of Free Treatment Effectiveness

More good news is coming in for malaria patients and notably for parents of children affected by the nation’s main killer disease.

Three years ago, the government decreed free treatment for light malaria infections for children of five years and below. Last Friday, the Minister for Public Health announced extension of free treatment for the same age bracket; this time including all complicated cases. This is very good news indeed and for several reasons.

No single act taken to alleviate further suffering inflicted by the disease can be ever so small, especially with children where diagnosis is already an uphill task. The effects of malaria have been so devastating that the government has literally declared war against it, describing it as a veritable burden on the health, economy and the development process of the nation.

Hold your breath! Every citizen under the national triangle is exposed to risk throughout the year, meaning that in Cameroon, there is no place to hide when it comes to malaria infections. Malaria is responsible for 43 out of every 100 deaths in Cameroon and accounts for 41 percent of all identifiable diseases.Between 40 & 50 percent of all hospital admissions are due to malaria, making it the foremost cause of admissions.

In 2013 alone, some 4.8 million Cameroonians were affected by malaria from which about 3000 deaths were registered. The decision to write off any bills for malaria infections within the 0-5 year age group takes particular significance in the fact that statistics on infant infections are particularly alarming. In Cameroon, some 59 percent of all hospital admissions for pregnant women are traced to malaria which is the main cause of infant mortality because up to 40 percent of all deaths in children are as a result of malaria.

In fact, one Cameroonian child dies every four minutes from malaria! This gloomy picture, of course, has wide-ranging socio-economic consequences. With regard to children, it is the first cause of school absenteeism. Government’s objective is to reduce the incidence of Malaria by 75 percent by 2018 and several moves have been taken in the attainment of this objective notably with the generalization of the use of mosquito nets. This initiative has improved coverage of children of the 0 – 5 year age bracket from about 20 percent prior to the launching of the initiative a few years ago to about 46 percent today.

Treatment will henceforth be free, but someone somewhere has had to foot the bill because, as they say, there is no free lunch. The initiative has been made possible through the constant solicitude of international partners such as the Global Fund. The best form of gratitude to show to these fund providers is through an efficient distribution system so that the medicines get to where they are most needed.

The Ministry of Public Health and CENAME, the national drug distribution outfit, should ensure that the drugs are not only available, but are also free as the government has so desired. The very fact that laboratory tests, which hitherto constituted a veritable obstacle, are being substituted with instantaneous on-the-spot ones is a plus to count on because handy kits can easily be distributed to those in need. The existence of kits and the fastness in the testing process are elements which can drastically reduce corrupt practices and red tape.

This also means the process of covering far-flung localities has also been eased. Decision-makers must ensure that kits are available by setting up stocks in easy-to-access areas of the various Regions so as to avoid the niggling cases noticed in similar situations in other ministries. Malaria is such a threat that anyone found to be toying with this life-saving government initiative should be called to face the music of the law.

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