Malaria And Us

Five hundred years ago Europeans were in competition all over the world discovering and conquering new territories for their monarchs. The Portuguese, the Spanish, the British, in particular, were most active sailing westwards and later round the Cape of Good Hope towards Asia for cloves and wealth. But it was a time that sealed the doom of Africa from which Africa has not recovered. European explorers descended on Africa for what they could get for themselves or their mother countries; missionaries mostly with a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other to forcefully introduce their religion; and slavers to carry black Africans to their newly discovered territory, America, to work on their cotton, sugar cane, tobacco plantations or to simply serve as house helps or servants and as chattels to be sold and resold in markets. They carved up Africa among themselves as colonies for the benefit of their home countries.

During this confusion the British found the highlands of Kenya suitable and settled there in large numbers. And the Dutch and British fought over the temperate region of South Africa and also settled there with the Dutch gaining preeminence. But our own West Africa was definitely not welcoming. Those little insects called mosquitoes that killed them in great numbers saw to it. They named West Africa ‘the white man’s grave’ and left their black surrogates to rule and went to settle in more friendly climes.

Mosquitoes have been with us and have been killing us, especially our young ones, from time immemorial. And we have used all sorts of home made medicines including herbs to defend ourselves until the white people introduced orthodox medicines which last for a while until the next infection. But of late there have been cheering news. The governments of Kenya, Malawi and Ghana have, in cooperation with the World Health Organisation, in-country and international donors and the international pharmaceutical company, GSK, discovered a vaccine and, in 2019, launched the first malaria vaccines for children. The first dose is administered on six month old children and the fourth dose is administered at the age of two.

Now in the world there are about 400,000 malaria deaths annually of which three quarters are in Africa. And this write-up is about Nigeria, the giant of Africa. What is Nigeria’s attitude attitude to mosquitoes and malaria? Why is Nigeria not among the countries involved in the vaccine? The question is cogent when we compare malaria deaths in Nigeria with deaths in the three countries mentioned above. Nigeria is of a population of about 200,000,000 with about 80,000 to 117,000 deaths each year. If we take average death of 100,000 it means that in Nigeria one in every 2,000 people died last year from malaria. In Kenya of a population of about 54,000,000, 10,700 people died last year and that breaks down to one in every 5,046 people. In Malawi of a population of 18,600,000, 8,090 people died and that breaks down to one person in every 2,290 citizens. Most importantly, in Ghana, a member country in West Africa that is named ‘the white man’s grave’, of a population of 28,800,000 people, 565 died in 2019 and this breaks down to one in 50,973 citizens. And in the first quarter of 2020 only 54 citizens have died from malaria in Ghana and at that rate by the end of this year Ghana would be counted as having only 216 deaths or 1 in every 133,000 citizens! Ghana is pursuing zero death from malaria policy. But with so few deaths is it not commendable that Ghana is taking part in the vaccination experiment? Is it not pertinent to ask why Nigeria, the giant of Africa, with all its oil money, is not involved? Why are we lagging behind even a poor country like Malawi?

Now let us relate malaria to covid-19. There is this great scramble to find a vaccine for the covid-19 virus. The USA will soon have one. Russia says it has one. The United Kingdom is on its way to having one. China has a vaccine for its armed forces, another for front-line workers, and is testing the one for general use! All these are happening within eight months of the breakout out of covid-19. But Nigeria is ‘cooperating’ with the World Health Organisation to have one. What is this cooperation? Is it financial? Or are we just hopeful spectators or cheer leaders?

Why on earth has it taken black Africa five hundred hears to have a vaccine for malaria that has been killing us in hundreds of thousands? If malaria had been afflicting the USA, the UK, Russia or China the way it has been afflicting black Africa there would have been a vaccine two or three hundred years ago. Black Africa must get away from the silent tag of the beggar continent of the world.

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