The first ever health summit organized by the Northern Governors' Forum (NGF) has heard that 110 million Nigerians are active malaria patients and over N800 billion is spent annually for the treatment of the disease.
Reeling out the health statistics at the summit at Arewa House, Kaduna Monday was the Minister of State for Heath Architect Gabriel Aduku who also disclosed that the country loses N132 billion annually to man-hour due to absenting from offices, farms, markets, schools and factories as well as expenditure on subsidized malaria drugs.
The minister said malaria was also responsible for high morbidity and mortality in the country accounting for 11 per cent of maternal mortality and 35 per cent of infant mortality.
Furthermore, he said 74 per cent of Africa's population lives in areas that are highly endemic to the disease and 19 per cent in endemic prone areas with only seven per cent in low risk or malaria free zone.
"AIDS is a child's play compared to the deaths caused by malaria in Africa," the minister declared, adding that most of the deaths also occur in the northern part of the country.
The country representative of the United Nations Children's Education Fund (UNICEF) co-sponsors of the summit, Mr. Ayalew Abai said as a development agency with mandate for children, the Fund was deeply concerned about the unflattering health statistics on children and women in Nigeria, especially in the north.
He said every year at least one million children born in Nigeria die before their fifth birthday, with most of the deaths occurring in the north.
"The number of women who die due to pregnancy and related causes is also alarmingly high, with a disproportionate percentage of the maternal deaths occurring in the north," he added.
Niger State governor and chairman of the summit, Dr Babangida Aliyu said the time had come for collective action by all the 19 northern governors to reverse the alarming health statistics in the north. He blamed past administrators in the north for the health situation.
He said unlike other northern summits in the past, this summit would come out with a definite, practical and time-based plan of action as well as a mechanism for monitoring the implementation by each state "because if we cannot do anything for our people God will ask what we have done with the people's money".
Kaduna State governor and chief host of the summit, Architect Namadi Sambo said his administration had, in recognition of the deplorable health situation in the state, started free medical services to children below five yeas and pregnant women and started a programme to rehabilitate its health institutions.
All the commissioners of health in the 19 northern states and their directors attended the one-day summit as well as officials of the federal ministry of health, non-governmental and civil society organizations from the northern states.