President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday appointed Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote as chairman of the newly inaugurated Nigeria End Malaria Council (NEMC).
Also appointed as members of the council are: Tony Elumelu, Chairman, Board of Directors, UBA; Folurunsho Alakija, CEO, Rose of Sharon Group; Herbert Wigwe, CEO, Access Bank; Femi Otedola, CEO Forte Oil; Hajiya Lami Lau, President, National Council of Women Societies; John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Emertius Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese; Alhaja Rafiyat Sanni, National Amira, Federation of Muslim Women Nigeria (FOWAN) and Dr Perpetua Uhomoibhi, NEMC Secretariat/National Coordinator, National Malaria Elimination Programme (NMEP).
Others are: Shehu Ibrahim, Permanent Secretary, Office of the Vice President on Political and Economic Affairs; Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF); Sen. Yahaya Oloriegbe, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health; Hon. Abubakar Dahiru, Chairman, House Committee on AIDS, TB and Malaria, Dr Osagie Ehanire, Hon. Ekumankama, Mahmuda Mamman, Permanent Secretary, Federal Minister of Health.
Buhari, during the inauguration of the council in Abuja on Tuesday said the government was projecting that the successful implementation of the Council’s agenda and savings from the estimated economic burden of the disease would save Nigeria about N687 billion in 2022 and N2 trillion by 2030.
The President told the 16-member Council headed by Dangote, that beyond improving the quality of life, health and well-being of Nigerians, the concerted strategy to tackle malaria had both public health as well as socio-economic benefits for Nigeria.
“Our inauguration today will therefore ensure that malaria elimination remains a priority on our agenda, with strong political commitment from leaders at all levels.
“Additionally, the End Malaria Council will provide a platform to advocate for more funding to protect and sustain progress made so far by our country, and put us on a pathway to ending malaria for good” the President said.
Expressing concern that the age-long disease had remained a major public health challenge in Nigeria, the President cited the World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 2021, showing that Nigeria alone accounts for 27 per cent of all cases of malaria and 32 per cent of deaths globally.
“Malaria infection can cause severe disease and complication in pregnant women and lead to high rates of miscarriage.
“It is also responsible for a considerable proportion of deaths in infants and young children, with children under 5 years being the most vulnerable group affected. These are reasons we must not relent in fighting malaria”
On his choice of Dangote to chair the Council, President Buhari explained that it was in recognition of the track record and passion of Africa’s richest man in supporting initiatives on various health issues such as polio and primary health care system strengthening.
He expressed confidence that Dangote would bring his outstanding achievements to help the country achieve its goal of malaria elimination, adding that a group of eminent personalities, who have also made their mark across all walks of life, have been selected to work in the Council.
He added that the membership of the Council reflects Government’s commitment to significantly reducing the malaria burden in Nigeria, to a level where it is no longer a public health issue.
“I have been informed that the End Malaria Council (EMC) has already been established in other African countries, in line with the African Union Assembly Declaration for Establishment of EMC’s in Africa
“EMCs have provided leadership, new funding and innovation to enable these countries stay on track to meet malaria burden reduction targets, and I am optimistic that the setting up of the Nigeria End Malaria Council will do the same for Nigeria.
“I must add that with the additional advocacy and funding the Council will bring to the malaria control drive, we can anticipate a reduction in malaria burden that ensures that our children, pregnant women, indeed, all Nigerians are shielded from the disease.
“We must work together to reduce the unnecessary deaths attributable to malaria and ultimately improve the well-being of citizens. I implore the Council to ensure best practices and innovative strategies in achieving its mandate.’’
Buhari used the occasion to thank the Chairman of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, the Executive Secretary of ALMA, RBM Partnership in Nigeria for their continuous support to the Federal Ministry of Health and the malaria programme, in particular.
He also acknowledged the contributions of the Global Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the President’s Malaria Initiative, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, UNICEF, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, other implementing partners, and the private sector.
In separate remarks, the Minister of Health, Ehanire, and the Minister of State for Health, Joseph Ekumankama Nkama, said since 2010, Nigeria has been recording a continuous decline in malaria from 42 per cent in 2010, 27 per cent in 2015 to 23 per cent in 2018.
Both ministers, however, admitted that funding gap has impacted the implementation of the malaria programmes in Nigeria, adding that the country needs N1.89 trillion to reduce malaria prevalence and mortality by 2025.
According to Ekumankama “The biggest challenge confronting us, which prevents the elimination of malaria, to ensure a malaria-free nation in the shortest possible time is inadequate finances to fund the NMSP.
“We are currently implementing NMSP of 2021 to 2025, with the intent to achieve a parasitic prevalence of less than 10 per cent and reduce mortality attributable to malaria to less than 50 deaths per 1000 live births by the year 2025. It will take about N1.89 trillion to implement this plan.
“However, in the first year of its implementation we had an estimated deficit of over N150 billion and in 2022, we already have a deficit of over N170 billion”
In his acceptance speech, Dangote thanked the President and all members of the Council for entrusting him with the enormous responsibility, pledging to work hard to achieve the mandate.
“I must confess that this resonates with my current role as the Nigerian Ambassador for Malaria, my role on the Global End Malaria Council and with the work that my Foundation is doing to mobilise the private sector to support malaria control in Nigeria and Africa at large” he said.