Malaria Eradication: A dream or reality?

Posted by News Express | 12 February 2020 | 1,011 times

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Malaria Eradication: A dream or reality?

The Africa of my birth and of my life experience is a continent of abundant human and natural resources, immense and diverse investment opportunities, and an economy that is primed for leapfrog strategies. Africa’s challenges may appear daunting to most, but to those with the right entrepreneurial vision, challenges always provide opportunities” - Jim Ovia (Africa Rise And Shine).

Joanne Chory is a professor and director, Plant Biology Laboratory, Salk Institute for biological studies. In the current edition of “The world in 2020”, a publication of The Economist, she did a detailed commentary on the possibility of humanity to wage a determined war against climate change, making use of what she called plant genetics.

Just like our opening quote from one of Africa's best known entrepreneurs, Mr Jim Ovia, this uncommon scientist Joanne Chory expressed her belief that attaining this lofty aspiration of confronting the effects of climate change may take what she categorised as a global village to attain. 

Her words: "There are clearly examples where science, technology and policy have converged to solve global threats. For our efforts to succeed, we need nothing less than the type or federal investment and partnerships between the public and private sectors that led to the lifesaving public health response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

Her tremendously informed scientific observation was exactly what came to my mind when I read in some respected national newspapers in Nigeria about the current efforts of a private Nigeria citizen and a former member, House of Representatives, Prince Ned Nwoko, is doing to attain what he hopes would be an end to the malaria scourge ravaging millions of Nigerians. Ned Nwoko's singular effort through his reputable non-governmental organisation (NGO), known as Ned Nwoko's Foundation, has come at a time that the founder of Nigeria's and, indeed, Africa's best known and most successful bank, Zenith Bank plc, Mr Jim Ovia, is aggressively marketing his beautifully written intellectual work titled - "Africa Rise and Shine: How a Nigerian Entrepreneur from Humble Beginnings Grew a Business to $16 Billion."

Ned Nwoko incidentally is from the same state as Jim Ovia and another giant in the business world, Mr Tony Elumelu, who is the brain behind another successful African banking brand - United Bank for Africa. 

Nwoko's) newly-found love to end one of Nigeria’s most dangerous killer-diseases (malaria) has already attracted widespread media interests. 

However, there is still no known government participation in this initiative which, if achieved, could become the most acceptable scientific discovery of the 21st century Nigeria. Nwoko is a politician with a difference, because he usually embarks on humanitarian ventures that transcend mundane political affiliations. One of Nigeria’s widely read newspapers reported Ned Nwoko’s anti-malaria venture in a lovely mode. 

The media stated that there is reprieve on the way to eradicate the scourge of malaria in Nigeria and the African continent as a philanthropist, Hon Ned Nwoko, has met a group of scientists and finalised strategies on when and how to commence and complete the first of its kind of air fumigation of the country. 

The scientists from Antarctica will also advice on the best form of insecticides to be used based on the success story of the same project carried out in Florida and Malaysia.

Already Nwoko is making money available to five universities for research and has decided to bear the financial burden alone without involving the government. 

Speaking exclusively to a newspaper reporter almost the same information he relayed  one-on-one to this writer in his imposing Abuja mansion, the former federal lawmaker said what inspired him to embark on this gigantic project of trying to flush out malaria was his determination to serve humanity and to save lives. 

According to him, “It’s born out of humanity, the realisation that nothing has been done in these areas that is an ongoing crisis in the health sector. If we have over five hundred thousand people dying every year, according to the United Nations statistics, it is a huge number. And that nothing is being done about it or nothing seems to be on the pipeline, that I am aware of. I’m trying to research to find out.” 

He continued: “For two years, I have been researching, trying to find out but my conclusion was that this is not a White man’s problem, it is our problem; just like sickle-cell and sickle-cell is also part of the offshoot of malaria – long time malaria crisis is what lead to sickle-cell anemia."

“If it is not a White man’s problem, this explains why they have not bothered to pay attention at finding a cure by way of vaccine. Vaccine is the ultimate solution and I felt that we have to look for a solution from within Africa, from among ourselves and I know I can start it and I believe others will join as I go along.” 

Asked how soon it would take for the commencement of the project, he said: “We have started, my going to Antarctica was part of the process. Are you not in this world? We have started, I went to Antarctica and met with some scientists with the company involved in the air fumigation and also advising on the best form of insecticides to use because they’ve done it before in Florida and in Malaysia.

 “They also told me that they have done in some of the Caribbean Islands where there were mosquitoes before, but no more. So, we have a solution, it’s just a question of planning and implementing it.” 

Prince Ned, the man who contributed to ending Nigeria's economic depression few years back through his consultancy initiative that led to Paris Club's Refunds to Nigerian states and local governments, also entertained the question on whether he has any collaboration with the Federal Government, even as he answered in the affirmative, adding that what was needed by the government was support. He said, “Of course, there is.”

"Now, what we need is the support; the other form of support will come in terms of planning. We need the Federal Government to dedicate weeks for these things to be implemented. We need states government and local governments to be actively involved in the clean-ups of the environment. There is a lot of collaboration at every stage in this project.

”Even when you look at the area of research itself, where we are making the money available to five universities; yes, Federal Government may not have any role to play, state governments may not have any role to play, since I am personally funding it exclusively, but if those we chose are from Federal Government’s institutions, they have a role to play in guiding them, in advising them, making sure that they go to work and come out with a result.”

On his level of commitment in the project, the Delta State-born philanthropist said: “Whatever it takes to get this going is what I am doing. This is about the need to save lives, no financial cost is comparable to live. So I am not looking at the cost because I can afford to do so in doing what I am doing now. When the time comes, if I need support, from the federal government or state, I will let them know.”

An interesting dimension in all of this is that the majority of Nigerians who have read this piece of sweet story have heaved a sigh of relief that at least one of the most deadly diseases ravaging our poor, rural communities is about to be confronted and defeated. I spoke with at least two-dozen rural women in Arondizuogu in Imo State about this initiative and what I got from the useful dialogues is that radio stations have actually relayed the news to them, but that they are yet to come to terms with the possibility that malaria fever known to have led to the untimely deaths of many people they know could be eradicated.

"Please help us tell Prince Ned Nwoko that our best wishes and prayers are with him so he actualised this noble objective," so says Mrs Gladys Onwubiko, my mother who also spoke with me. 

These poor Nigerians who are aware that malaria is more of a disease of the poor, who number over 90 million people, will definitely hope that this effort ends up as a reality than a mere dream and fantasy of this young and upwardly mobile lawyer and politician.

Just as Ovia would say in Africa Rise and Shine that consistency in doing what is profitable could culminate in the realisation of a dream, this writer feels that the aspiration of Nwoko to achieve malaria eradication is achievable given that even poorer countries have just attained that goal.

On June 11, 2018, British Guardian reported that Paraguay is the first country in Americas to eliminate malaria in 45 years. Celebrating first country in Americas to eliminate disease since Cuba, World Health Organisation (WHO) head said: “Success story shows what is possible.”

The report has it that a female anopheles stephensi mosquito feeds on human blood. This mosquito is a vector of the parasite Plasmodium, the agent of malaria.

Paraguay is officially free of malaria, the World Health Organization said making it the first country in the Americas in 45 years to have wiped out the deadly disease which is back on the rise globally.

Nearly half a million people - most of them babies and children in Africa - died in 2016 from mosquito-borne malaria, while at least 216 million were infected, an increase of 5 per cent over 2015, WHO said.

With no recorded cases of malaria in five years, Paraguay became the first country in the region to have eliminated malaria since Cuba in 1973, the WHO said. It was the first country to be declared malaria-free since Sri Lanka in 2016.

“It gives me great pleasure today to certify that Paraguay is officially free of malaria,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, said in a statement.

“Success stories like Paraguay’s show what is possible. If malaria can be eliminated in one country, it can be eliminated in all countries.”

While significant progress has been made over the past 20 years in reducing malaria cases and deaths, in 2016, for the first time in a decade, the number of malaria cases rose and in some areas there was resurgence, the WHO said.

Health experts say a growing resistance to the sprays and drugs used to attack the mosquito that transmits the disease and the parasite that causes it was partly to blame.

They also say it was partly due to stagnant global funding for malaria since 2010. Climate change and conflict can also exacerbate malaria outbreaks.

“This is a powerful reminder for the region of what can be achieved when countries are focused on an important goal,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organisation, the WHO’s regional office.

“We are hopeful that other countries will soon join Paraguay in eliminating malaria,” she said in a statement.

In 2016, the WHO identified Paraguay as one of 21 countries with the potential to eliminate malaria by 2020.

The WHO said Algeria, Argentina and Uzbekistan are on track to be declared free from malaria later this year.

The RBM Partnership to End Malaria welcomes the announcement that Uzbekistan has received the World Health Organization certification of malaria elimination. This announcement makes Uzbekistan the eighth country to free itself from the burden of the disease since 2010 and marks the latest success in the fight against malaria in Central Asia. Turkmenistan was certified as malaria free in 2010, Armenia in 2011, Kyrgyzstan in 2016 and now Uzbekistan in 2018. So reports endmalaria.org

Key to this success in Uzbekistan has been the enduring support of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provided funding for insecticide-treated bed nets, spraying equipment, training activities, medicines, transportation for drugs and laboratory equipment – tools essential to eliminate the disease.

Dr Kesete Admasu, CEO, RBM Partnership to End Malaria, said:

“Uzbekistan’s success proves that when countries work towards elimination with coordinated action, they can achieve incredible results. This impressive achievement is not only significant for the people of Uzbekistan, but also for the global fight against malaria. The RBM Partnership to End Malaria congratulates Uzbekistan and the Global Fund for their efforts and hope that this inspires other countries to take similar steps to defeat malaria once and for all.”

The announcement came at the end of a momentous year for malaria. Uzbekistan is the second nation after Paraguay to receive WHO’s malaria-free certification since the beginning of 2018, while Algeria and Argentina are among a diverse set of countries on track to eliminate the disease by 2020. Several other regions have set ambitious elimination targets, the latest being the six countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region pledging to end malaria by 2030. According to the latest WHO World malaria report, half of all malaria endemic countries – 46 - registered fewer than 10,000 cases and, for the first time, China and El Salvador reported no local transmission of malaria in 2017. The search for an end to Malaria scourge in Nigeria as is currently being undertaken will be achieved given the huge funding support coming from the billionaire businessman Ned Nwoko and the goodwill of the current government to support any endeavours that delivers succour to the largest percentage of the suffering masses. In times past, discoveries in the scientific fields have been made accidentally. However, Ned Nwoko's aspiration is deliberate and well-coordinated. 

Kevin Loria in Business Insider of April 4, 2018 reports that some scientific discoveries come about after painstaking, goal-oriented lab-work finally yields the result that a researcher is trying to find.

But many of the most incredible discoveries in the world came about when someone found something they weren't looking for.

In some cases, these are the results of a true accident. Lucky, accidents have allowed people to discover unexpected but useful side-effects from drugs, which is what happened with Viagra.

Saccharine - the artificial sweetener in "Sweet'N Low" - was found by a Russian chemist who forgot to wash his hands after a day’s work.

Perhaps more often, world-changing discoveries are the result of a creative mind realising that a material or invention could be repurposed into something incredible. Ned Nwoko's thinking to end malaria is salutary.  This is because in many of these cases, the researchers behind the discovery wouldn't call their finding a true "accident," since it took a prepared mind to follow through and turn that discovery into something useful. But what was found wasn't what was being looked for in the first place.

Desperation or the need to figure out a new use for a product can always help too, as it did for the inventor of dough intended to clean soot from people's homes. A switch away from coal to gas removed the need for such cleaning clay, the specialised magazine www.sciencealert.com stated. 

Appraising the efforts of Ned Nwoko brings us to conclude just like Martin Luther King Jr that so long as the poor suffer and die from malaria, the rich will not sleep in peace. 

In his iconic I Have A Dream anthem, the American civil rights campaigner stated: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality - 1963 is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

“There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright days of justice emerge.”

The millions of Nigerian poor deserve health justice to guarantee their human right to life which this kind of eradication of malaria being sought by Nwoko could bring. Let us all key in and support the prince to achieve this national dream. 

So help us God!

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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