Let me tell you a story of an average Nigerian child, let’s call her Zuri. In the rural community in Nigeria where Zuri lives, 90% of the mosquitoes are female. Malaria has been reported to be transmitted through the bites of infected female mosquitoes. This poses a great risk for children in Zuri’s community. She lost her 3 years old brother to the cold hands of this deadly disease. She also had contracted Malaria not once but twice and as a result of the disease going untreated for so long, Zuri’s growth has been stunted.
Mankind has always faced one challenges or the other in the course of his existence. In Nigeria, health challenge is one of the factors contributing to the high rates of deaths. Malaria infection, caused by the plasmodial species Plasmodium falciparum, remains one of the biggest health challenges in the world which is prominent among pregnant women and children below the age of 5 years. Globally, 3.3 billion people in 106 countries are at risk of malaria according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, the disease is preventable and curable through optimum sanitation and hygiene practices, as well as adequate nutrition. Symptoms may include fever, headache, chills and vomiting may be mild.
Malaria: Nutritional Implications
Malaria possesses a considerable potential for adversely influencing host nutrition especially in children in three areas which are:
1. Low Birth Weight: New-borns and infants less than 12 months of age are one of the most vulnerable groups affected by malaria. During pregnancy, malaria infection in the mother can cause low birth weight and sometimes result in infant death.
2. Malnutrition: In this case, this is something of a vicious cycle. Malaria is capable of making people susceptible to malnutrition which can be seen in Zuri’s case. Also, malnutrition leads to vulnerability to malaria. Malnutrition both raises the risk of contracting diseases and worsens its outcome. This, in turn, leaves the victim enervated and deprived of nourishment.
“The malaria parasite has been killing children and sapping the strength of whole populations for tens of thousands of years. It is impossible to calculate the harm malaria has done to the world” – Bill Gates
3. Pathogenesis of Anaemia: The disease parasites, entering the blood after an infective mosquito bite, infects the red blood cell. At the end of the infection cycle, the red blood cell ruptures which lower the number of red blood cells and can in a severe stage cause severe anaemia.
Role of Nutrition in The Prevention and Control of Malaria
The body requires enough nutrients to function effectively. Through the infection, macronutrients and micronutrients have been implicated which affects the proper functioning of the immune system. Effective and adequate nutrition has a lot of potentials in the management and control of infections. It supplies the body with a rich diet which aids in strengthening the immune system. It also prevents the breakdown of proteins as a source of energy to the body.
1. Vitamin A: It is known to modulate innate and adaptive immune responses and is vital for host immunity against different infectious diseases. It plays a major role in the prevention of malaria which leads to a reduction in mortality rate. Food sources rich in Vitamin A are cod liver oil, sweet potatoes, eggs, fruits and vegetables.
2. Vitamin D: This offers effective immune boost against the disease. It aids the control of infection because it increases the blood concentration of the body’s antimicrobial protein which helps in fighting malaria. Food sources of vitamin D include cheese, fish, dairy products, eggs. Oral intake of Vitamin D may also be able to help prevent symptoms of cerebral malaria.
3. The B Vitamins: These vitamins are involved in a lot of cellular metabolic reactions. Also, as a group, they affect the immune response to infection which includes the production of antibodies in the immune system. Food sources rich in the B vitamins include whole grains, meat or poultry, legumes, fruits and vegetables, dairy products.
Additionally, observing adequate sanitation and hygiene practices helps in the control of the disease. Better management of water resources reduces the transmission of malaria and other vector-borne diseases.
Below are some popular Nigerian myths concerning the disease from DrZobo. What other malaria-related myths do you know? Please share in the comments section. Drop your answer with #ZeroMalariaStartsWithMe. It’s #WorldMalariaDay today!
“As a blood group A+, I can’t get it.”
“As O+ you are prone to it.”
“Walking in the scorching sun gives you the condition.”
“Moms would say too much of “fry fry” causes fever.”
“Too much of pear intake causes malaria. Too much of stew causes it too.”
“Groundnuts causes it.”
“I don’t cook Egusi soup at home because my dad won’t eat citing it as a malaria-infested soup.”
“Malted stout beer cures it.”
As we celebrate World Malaria Day today, even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, this is a call to keep malaria on the political agenda and for everyone to take ownership. Everyone must be reminded of the critical importance to prevent, detect and treat malaria. As this disease still threatens the poor and the most vulnerable around us.