Home OPINIONS From shocking surge to youth-led revolution: A vanguard for malaria eradication in...

From shocking surge to youth-led revolution: A vanguard for malaria eradication in Kenya

John Mwangi is the Country Lead, KMYC

In a recent tête-à-tête with a friend from Murang’a, the conversation took an unexpected turn. Shockingly, he revealed that at least 93 patients have tested positive for malaria in Murang’a county.

In the previous week, a student from the Kamahuha area succumbed to this relentless disease at Maragua Level Four Hospital. This alarming surge, the highest reported in two decades, has sparked concerns among health authorities, forcing us to confront the harsh reality that malaria continues to pose a significant threat. Further details indicate that between December last year and January, 977 patients were screened, and 93 tested positive for malaria in various health facilities in Murang’a.

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Malaria, often underestimated, continues to cast a long shadow on the health landscape globally, regionally, and nationally. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics are staggering – globally, a child succumbs to malaria every minute, with 95% of cases and 96% of deaths occurring on the African continent. In Kenya, where the vision of a malaria-free nation looks vague but is fervently pursued, over 3.4 million cases were recorded in 2021 alone, marking it as the leading cause of death among 5 to 9 year-olds.

This grim reality is not confined to statistics; it permeates the lives of our youth, the heartbeat of this nation, affecting their health, education, stifling their economic trajectory, and overall well-being. In a malaria-ridden environment, a youth plays a pivotal role by caring for affected siblings, planning for a brighter future, and serving as the go-to person for assistance for parents or elder relatives. As we strive to reach zero malaria in Kenya, we must acknowledge the challenges faced by our youth and their much-needed collective efforts as they are the vibrant, energetic, and highest potential age-bracket within the country.

Despite commendable progress over the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the momentum gained in the fight against malaria. The prevalence of malaria, especially among vulnerable populations like women and children, saw a notable decrease. However, the interruptions caused by the pandemic led to a resurgence of new cases in 2020, underlining the fragility of our gains.

Kenya’s commitment to eradicating malaria is evident in its strategic objectives outlined in the Kenya Malaria Strategy (KMS) 2019-2023. These objectives focus on protecting at-risk populations, managing malaria cases, increasing intervention utilization, and strengthening surveillance. The strides made through these concerted efforts showcase the power of collaboration among the government, partners, civil society, and communities in delivering strategic interventions.

Research by KEMRI reported the rise of a new mosquito species which was first discovered and reported in Kenya in December 2022 with new adaptions which have higher resistance to the conventional prevention methods. And yet these are the same settings highly populated by the youth.

However, in the face of growing threats, especially the mutating malaria parasites and insecticide-resistant mosquitoes, it is clear that much more emphasis is needed towards collectively joining efforts to combat the disease.

Launched by the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), the Kenya Malaria Youth Corps is a social movement that unites young people from all 47 counties in Kenya to champion malaria control and elimination. This youth army, consisting of vibrant individuals aged 15-35, is a beacon of hope in the fight against malaria. It ensures a diverse cadre of young individuals, including students, professionals, and leaders, contribute to the cause.

Formed during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure as the chair of ALMA, he envisioned this youth army as a catalyst for ending malaria in Africa. By involving the majority of our population, the youth, we can achieve faster and more effective delivery of health services and contribute significantly to the broader health and development agenda.

Today, we witness the launch of The Power of EveryONE, a national malaria campaign that represents a culmination of our concerted efforts and highly focused on increasing awareness and promoting preventative measures against malaria, with a particular emphasis on the endemic regions of Kakamega, Kilifi, and Kisumu while leveraging on the youth as the backbone of the campaign.

As young people, we must recognize the power we hold in shaping the future. Malaria is not just a health issue; it is a barrier to education, economic progress, and the overall well-being of our nation and our future. The Youth Army gives us an opportunity to be the generation that eliminates malaria in our lifetime. It is a call to action, urging us to amplify our voices, advocate for accountability, and contribute our energy and innovation to the fight against malaria.

Kenya, as the first country in Africa and globally to launch a national malaria youth army, is setting a precedent. It is an acknowledgment that meaningful engagement of young people is essential for driving gains towards better health and well-being for all. The battle against malaria is not just a vision; it is a tangible goal within our reach, and together, we will make strides towards zero malaria. The time to act is now, and Kenya’s youth are ready for the challenge.

John Mwangi is the Country Lead – Kenya Malaria Youth Corps

John Mwangi
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