In the effort to end malaria deaths, Nigeria is square one: it is Africa's most populated country, and represents one quarter of the continent's malaria burden. The climate and topography of this West African country support a prolific mosquito presence that transmits malaria unrelentingly throughout the year, leading to arguably the most virulent malaria environment on the planet.
When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued the goal of ensuring universal access to malaria prevention tools by the end of 2010, with the ultimate goal of near-zero malaria deaths by 2015, Nigeria became a natural focal point. Nigeria requires just over 72 million mosquito nets to be in place by the end of 2010 in order to protect every man, woman and child from the disease. Success in Africa depends on success in Nigeria.
Developing and adhering to strategic net delivery campaigns is leading to the realization of that success. Recent mosquito net campaigns have pushed Nigeria towards the crucial 50 percent mark, as close to half of the population now has access to mosquito nets. As Nigeria is a union of 37 semi-autonomous states, distribution of key malaria prevention tools has not been possible without support at the local level.
Additionally, the full engagement of both Muslim and Christian leadership and infrastructure has positioned religious mechanisms as a vital lifeline in the distribution of resources. The Nigerian Interfaith Action Association (NIFAA), a mobilization of the religious sector to partner with the national government to combat malaria, was launched this spring. Co-chaired by the leading Muslim and Christian authorities in Nigeria – the Sultan of Sokoto and the Archbishop of Abuja, it serves as a model for far-reaching interaction.
The results of these partnerships and coordinated plans is already being realized. A mosquito net delivery campaign which began in May and will culminate in July will provide nearly six million nets to protect 12 million Nigerians in Kano state and Anambra state. As the first two million nets were delivered in Kano state, demand was overwhelmingly high, a clear indicator of the pervasive willingness to utilize these life-saving tools.
This massive infusion of resources is ensuring that in two of Nigeria's ten most populated states, people are universally protected from the disease carrying mosquito. Sustained efforts are planned with state-by-state deliveries mapped out for each month until December 2010, when mosquito nets will have been delivered to all of Nigeria's citizens.
The unified mobilization of stakeholders at all levels to implement these successful distribution campaigns reveals a landscape that is rapidly changing. Once malaria is no longer accepted as a hardship to be endured in perpetuity, and a plan is in place, saving lives becomes possible.
Nigeria has charted a methodical course for achieving the Secretary-General's goal, and in doing so has simultaneously set the bar high for its neighbors in Africa, while laying the groundwork for a replication of this success.
Ray Chambers is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise. He is based in New York.