Malaria Forum Ends with Commitment to Eliminate Disease
NAIROBI, Kenya—The second Kenya National Malaria Forum concluded with the promise to confront the dangers of malaria in the country by boosting the collaborative efforts between the counties and the national government.
Over 250 researchers, academics, policy makers, county health executives and representatives from the private and public sector gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi October 13–14, 2014 to discuss how best to devise intervention strategies under the devolved healthcare system to eliminate malaria in Kenya.
The forum was the first of its kind held since the county governments took up the responsibility to implement malaria control activities under the devolution, with the national government providing technical support to the counties. Kenya accepted the devolved system of governance following the adoption of a new constitution in 2010.
“This is a very important forum. The forum provides for coordination between national and county governments on how to end malaria,” said Dr. Dabar Abdi Maalim from the Transition Authority.
The forum also came at a time when the burden of malaria is still heavy in the country. Statistics show that malaria remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Kenya, with the highest malaria burden in the endemic regions around Lake Victoria.
“Twenty-eight million people are at risk of malaria in Kenya. The burden is still very high,” Dr. Waqo Ejersa, head of the Malaria Control Unit at the Ministry of Health, said.
This is despite the fact that Kenya has made significant progress in controlling malaria over the last decade – in large part because of the interventions that have been put in place, including use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, and use of effective medication for treatment. The Kenyan government aims to contain and eliminate malaria by 2017, as part of the strategies adopted in the Kenya National Malaria Strategy.
“Malaria is an enemy that must be fought with all the weapons we have,” Dr. Khadija Kassachoon, the Permanent Secretary for Health, said at the launch of the conference. “We shouldn’t be so comfortable that we have done much, because we know how destructive malaria can be.”
Devolving health services
The various presentations at the conference brought to the fore the delicate balance of devolution, and how counties and the national government ought to work together to prevent malaria. Malaria control coordinators across the 47 counties attended the forum, with the county health executives and directors from the 14 endemic counties in the country joining them.
The theme of the second Kenya National Malaria Forum was “Malaria Control in Devolved Kenya: Sustaining Gains towards Pre-elimination.”
Questions arose over who should supply relevant drugs; provide training to community health workers to sustain the fight against malaria; and formulate guidelines for disposal of old nets at the household levels.
As they take up the mantle of providing quality healthcare to citizens, county health executives also recounted some of the challenges facing them at the county levels. Erratic supply of anti-malaria drugs for treatment and malaria rapid diagnostic tests, besides the lack of budgetary allocations for communication and awareness campaigns, are just some of the challenges noted by the participants.
“To handle malaria successfully, we need to be able to consider and streamline all the other health needs in the counties,” Dr. Elizabeth Ogaja, the Kisumu County Executive of Health, said. “It should be a joint partnership effort between the counties, the national government, and all the other partners and stakeholders working at the respective counties.”
To better align their efforts, researchers and academics at the malaria forum presented on some of the innovative approaches being used to tackle malaria. Presentations delved into how the proliferation of mobile phones eases the delivery of health information to targeted communities. This was showcased in how health workers easily respond to information on phones, and how short messages increased the use of nets across households.
In addition, experts presented on different communication methods to target specific segments of the population at risk with relevant information and education on malaria symptoms, available vaccines, and prevention methods.
During plenary and concurrent sessions, key developments in malaria vaccines, epidemic preparedness and response, and social mobilization methods were discussed at length.
The second malaria forum builds on the success on the first malaria conference, which took place in October 2011, and focused on moving the fight against malaria from evidence and research towards action in tackling the spread of malaria in the country. The forum provided a platform for the county representatives to interact with researchers and policy makers at the national level.
“To become a malaria free-nation, we have to double our efforts, in both strategy development and policy implementation,” Dr. Ejersa said. “We have to fight it together.”