By Allwell Okpi
Malaria is rife in Nigeria where about a quarter of global malaria deaths occur annually. But does it take the lives of over 756,000 Nigerian children under five every year?
Health journalist Chukwuma Muanya made this claim in Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper in April 2018. When contacted, he said the figure came from a hard copy document provided by the Federal Ministry of Health at a March symposium. However, Muanya was unable to produce the document.
Africa Check therefore tested the claim against publicly available data.
732,751 children under five died in total
The World Health Organisation publishes an annual malaria report, which includes global estimates of malaria cases and deaths. The latest is for 2016.
Malaria caused an estimated 445,000 deaths worldwide in 2016, so the claim that Nigeria loses over 756,000 children to the disease every year cannot be true. However, the WHO report did not specify how many deaths in each country were of children under five.
“The estimate of 756,000 malaria deaths is clearly incorrect,” the team leader of surveillance at the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, Dr Abdisalan Noor, told Africa Check. “In fact it is closer to the estimated number of all children under five who died in Nigeria from all causes in 2016.”
An estimated 732,751 children under five died in Nigeria in 2016, data from the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation shows. Malaria was behind an estimated 12.5% of these deaths, only surpassed by pneumonia (19%) as leading cause of death.
Children under five are particularly vulnerable to malaria in high transmission areas. That is because they have not yet built up the partial immunity people in these regions acquire during childhood.
Conclusion: Journalist misstated malaria deaths among young Nigerians
Writing about childhood disease prevention, a health journalist claimed that malaria kills three quarters of a million under-five children in Nigeria annually.
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to malaria. In Nigeria, it’s no different, with malaria only surpassed by pneumonia as leading cause of death in children under five. It took the lives of an estimated 93,764 children in 2016.
The figure of 756,000 used in the article is closer to the total death toll from all causes in children younger than five in Nigeria (750,111).