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05.03.2006 Health

FEATURE: Lately I have been staring at the mirror

By Bedejo, Gbenga

Lately I have been staring at the mirror. This is certainly not because of vanity. Knowing that it is easily possible to become a fool who forgets how he looked once he observed himself in the mirror; staring at the mirror is my way of marking the trail of the things I observe around me.

Specifically, it helps me to consider the following:

To put faces to the millions of children that die from malaria before the age of 5 in Africa. These rather scary statistics represents a forgotten lot whose deaths have become a scar on the conscience of the living.

I was saddened by the recent plane crashes in Nigeria and felt it badly as I know victims from both occurrences. I also read of the justifiable outpour of anger and lamentations at the state of the aviation industry. However, Malaria kills more people in Africa. It is believed that Malaria is responsible for as many as half the deaths of African children under the age of five. Further, in regions of intense transmission, 40% of toddlers may die of acute malaria. The disease kills more than one million people every year, 90% of which are sub-Saharan Africans. This is approximately 2,800 deaths per day.

According to Dr. Wenceslaus Kilama, Chairman, Malaria Foundation International "The Malaria epidemic is like loading up seven Boeing 747 airliners each day, then deliberately crashing them into Mt. Kilimanjaro." The irony is not lost, Mt Kilimanjaro is in Africa and more children in Africa die of Malaria fever.

By the time it takes you to read this paragraph, two people would be dead. About 100 photo albums (on a 30 page album) is required per day to hold the photographs of the 2,800 dead. It will also take roughly 20 editions of Ovation, Hello or Ebony magazines to carry the obituaries of the daily victims of malaria. This statistics is enough to generate anger in anyone that cares especially because of the general indifference of the Africa society to measure the staggering cost in human lives. It is certainly criminal on the part of the general citizenry not to notice this scourge in our society. It is also criminal that the press will rather splash showbiz news than highlight this tragedy.

In Nigeria, there is a hubristic approach to most things, for example we are hooked on being seen as the giant of Africa, and of having a fantastic fashion sense, yet we yearly submit hundreds of thousands of defenceless children to malaria without batting the eye. Does it matter that we are a leader in world fashion or culture if we cannot protect children whose only misfortune is to be African-born.

For the purpose of presenting a basic understanding and background, some facts about malaria are as follows:

• Malaria is preventable and treatable and yet it remains one of the major causes of death worldwide.

• It threatens the lives of about 40% of the world's population, infects 300 to 500 million people and causes over one million deaths each year worldwide.

• Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite

• Malaria is transmitted to humans by infected female Anopheles mosquitoes that feed on human blood.

• The mosquito bite injects the malaria parasite into the blood, which then travels through the bloodstream to the liver.

• In the liver, the parasites grow and develop, until they are ready to leave the liver and enter the bloodstream again.

• Once the parasites re-enter the bloodstream they invade the red blood cells, finish growing, and begin to multiply quickly.

• The number of parasites increases until the red blood cells burst, releasing thousands of parasites into the bloodstream.

• The parasites then attack other red blood cells, and the cycle of infection continues, causing the common signs and symptoms of malaria

• It takes only one bite from an infected mosquito to contact malaria

• Malaria can live inside you for years and it can be a long-term disease. Malaria represents a huge threat to the economies of Africa. According to the World Health Organisation, Malaria has been estimated to cost Africa more than US$ 12 billion every year in lost GDP, even though it could be controlled for a fraction of that sum. As anyone will appreciate, a million dead children every year is a major depletion of the future generation and a wastage of monumental proportion. Africans are good at ignoring facts. Even when we stare at the mirror, we have a built-in resistance to accepting what we see. We are familiar with wastage of people and resources; we are content with sacrificing a million children every year at the altar of complacency. This must be reversed.

Political commitment to eradicating malaria is flimsy. The Abuja Declaration of 2000 that endorsed a strategy to combat Malaria across Africa is half-hearted and gathering dust on the shelf. The Declaration in itself does not go far enough as it only seeks to establish short term goals such as specifying and monitoring the number of people having access to treatment and other protective measures. Since the Abuja Declaration in 2000 and the Roll Back Malaria partnership that preceded it in 1998, malaria has continued to be on the increase with over 7 million people dead. What is needed now is a bold strategy to eradicate the disease within the next ten years. Currently most of the people tackling malaria are the likes of Bill Gates who have committed a substantial amount of money to research. All Africans around the world can join this campaign too. We certainly cannot afford to be complacent any longer. Eradicating Malaria Is malaria preventable?

Yes it is.

Has it ever been eradicated in other countries?

Yes it has in the United States and in Europe many decades ago.

How did they do it?

Largely through the use of insecticides

Can we do the same in Africa?

Yes we can if we have the will and motivation, if we care enough to do it.

Barring a vaccine breakthrough, currently the most effective way of eliminating malaria is through a wide-spread use of DDT – the same insecticide that helped eradicate malaria in the United States. According to the Malaria Foundation, 'DDT is a chemical which can be sprayed lightly around the interior walls, windows or on ceilings and will combat malaria effectively for one year.' It is believed that DDT can repel and prevent entry of as much as 95-97% of mosquitoes that will otherwise enter the house. Given that it is also believed that there is a widespread resistance to some of the most effective anti-malaria drug such as chloroquine and to some previously effective insecticides, DDT remains the most plausible and effective way of achieving a near total elimination of malaria. However, there is a campaign for a global ban on DDT by the developed countries because of its perceived effect on the environment.

Malaria's fury is never going to be spent except people take action. This article therefore has only one agenda. It is to start a campaign amongst Africans that will place malaria high up on the public agenda where it belongs, provide a voice to victims of malaria in Africa and to seek its elimination by 2015.

I am highlighting below an easy approach to achieve this

• Write to every level of government in your country - your local MP, Senator or Member of the House of Assembly; Governor of your state, President, Prime Minister, or King highlighting the number of people that die of malaria fever and requesting them to act on a lasting solution.

• Write to newspapers and TV stations asking them to keep this issue on the public agenda

• Get your church, office, club, college involved.

• If you live abroad, write to your MP or representative to pressure their government to help combat malaria in Africa.

The victims of malaria need a voice amongst Africans; we have to force the hands of our governments to do something. From Abuja to Luanda, Banjul to Nairobi, Accra to Tshwane, the time is now to say enough to the deaths and inaction. Victims of malaria need a voice. You can be their voice. I sincerely hope readers will not underestimate their importance in this campaign.

If you want to partner with some other people in building an international board to champion this cause, please contact me at the email address above. Anyone genuinely interested to see the eradication of malaria can join and be part of this campaign. I must emphasise that this is no fiddle-faddling but a genuine determination to eradicate malaria by 2015.

Only recently, I read the piece below which is meant to present the evil of mosquitoes and malaria in a light-hearted mood. You are able to laugh at the joke because you are privileged not to be one of the 1 million victims this year.

'As I laid on my bed, thinking about you, I felt this urge to grab you and squeeze you, because I couldn't forget last night. You came to me unexpectedly during the balmy and calm night, and what happened in my bed still leaves a tingling sensation in me. You appeared from nowhere and shamelessly, without any reservations, you laid on my naked body...you sensed my indifference, so you started to nibble, pierce and bite my body without any guilt and cares in this world, and you drove me out of my mind as you sucked me dry.

Today, when I woke up, you were gone, I searched for you but to no avail, only the sheets bore witness to last night's events. My body still shows your marks, making it harder to forget you. Tonight I will remain awake waiting for you...as soon as you appear I will quickly grab you and won't let you go, will hold you, with all my strength so you won't disappear. Won't rest until I squeeze your blood out...youuuuu... BLOODY MOSQUITO' Malaria is preventable, Malaria can be eradicated. Let us make this happen.

PS: For further information or template letter to send to your president, congress or national assembly members and other political leaders in the fight against malaria, please email [email protected] and I will send you a copy. References 1. Figure on percentage of toddlers from The Malaria Control Programme, World Health Organization, Third World Network Features, Health Canada, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Desowitz, Robert S. The Malaria Capers (More Tales of Parasites and People, Research and Reality). W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 199 2. Facts about malaria from http://www.malariahotspots.co.uk/output/Page3.asp 3. http://www.malaria.org/ 4. http://www.rbm.who.int/cmc_upload/0/000/015/370/RBMInfosheet_3.htm 5. Dr Wenceslaus Kilama quote from http://www.fightingmalaria.org/ Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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