BY LEADERSHIP EDITORS
Coming on the eve of this year’s World Malaria Day was the glad tiding that medical science may have taken humanity close to the verge of winning the long, excruciating war against the scourge of malaria. According to news reports penultimate week, a British pharmaceutical company has further improved on its existing malaria vaccine that has reached the stage of trial on human beings. According to the reports, 12,000 children in the African countries of Ghana, Malawi and Kenya are to be given the vaccine and put under observation for a one year period. We share in the euphoria and offer fervent prayers that this latest onslaught on the foremost killer of people especially in the continents of Africa and Asia, should turn out to be successful.
While we are excited, we are not, however, unmindful that previous attempts at developing malaria vaccines had either totally failed or, they recorded partial success. As a matter of fact, the vaccine being celebrated, RTS,S or, Mosquirix, had been around since a few years ago and had been put into trials way back in 2015 when it proved to have 26 – 50% success. Now improved and reinvigorated and with the new surge of confidence of the World Health Organization, WHO, in its efficacy, we will want to key into the universal belief that the vaccine, more than any other so far, holds out the greatest hope of degrading the menace of malaria.
“A drowning man,” the Hausa adage has it, “will hold onto even a two-edged sword.” Africans are particularly hopeful that the new vaccine turns out a huge success, because, the scourge of malaria is almost a phenomenon in our part of the world. Africa, according to WHO statistics has 90 per cent of world cases of malaria, while the continent also has 92 per cent of the recorded annual mortality of 429,000. When cognisance is given to the horrifying fact that the figure of 429,000 people killed by malaria is a mere 0.2 per cent of the total figure of infected people, then, we can only imagine the magnitude of the havoc annually wreaked on the African population. This will be so against the backdrop of the high degree of poverty that prevents a sizeable number of people from affording needed drugs or even attending health care centres. Also, the very deplorable conditions of health facilities and medical personnel in most African countries as well as the prevalence of outrightly fake, expired or sub-standard drugs, the number of those infected and resultant death rates, would certainly be much higher than the figures given by the WHO.
It is pertinent that while we await outcome of the trials, we should continue to wage the war against the plague of malaria through other existing strategies of mitigating its effects on our people. This we must do because, in spite of its optimism, even the WHO has been quick to caution that the RTS,S, should be regarded as: “Complimentary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to – and not replace – the core package of proven malaria preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures.” The import here is that, all tiers of governments in Africa, important key players, donor countries and agencies and research institutions among others, must not relent in making drugs and treatments accessible to the people, especially the poor and rural dwellers.
We commend the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding the research that led to the development of RTS,S or Mosquirix, as it also called. We note with dismay that, unlike the good examples of Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda and so many other people of wealth and goodwill from other parts of the world, very little can be said to have been done by local and foreign investors whose pillaging of the resources of Africa have directly contributed to the pauperization of the people, thereby, rendering them even more incapable of resisting infections of diseases such as malaria. Our wealthy people do not have the culture of giving portions of their wealth in the advancement of research activities and other noble philanthropic ventures. Those of our elite in positions of superintending services and institutions should have impacted on infrastructure and wellbeing of the people, rather than to engage in the bestial business of looting and diverting common patrimony for their own personal lifestyles of opulence. That, in our view, is a strong explanation for the abject poverty boosted by ignorance and illiteracy, and the paucity of basic essentials of human existence that litter the landscape of most African countries.
Thus our fear that, even with the malaria vaccine, the fight to eliminate the disease may not be completely won by 2040, the target year by which the World Health Organisation hopes that malaria would have been finally wiped out from the surface of the earth. In other words, are we in Africa on the same page? Do our leaders share this noble dream? Our answer is a frightful one.