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Nigeria’s romance with malaria

OVER time, malaria has virtually assumed the same status with the weather, which everyone complains about; and yet nobody is able to do anything about it.

Today, while the rest of Africa and the developing world have every reason to rejoice at the prospect of the imminent scientific breakthrough on the malaria vaccine that could provide 100 percent protection against the disease, Nigeria has apparently been caught napping.

Ordinarily, Nigeria should be enthused with the progress so far recorded towards the development of this malaria vaccine, which is being pioneered by researchers in the U.S; particularly in the face of the high malaria burden on the citizens – predominantly children and pregnant women.

Again, there is some bright light at the end of the tunnel on the issues of malaria. The World Health Organization, WHO, and other experts say that globally, there are about 20 other vaccine projects for malaria prevention at various stages of development and clinical testing.

As we speak, the Firm of Glaxo Smithkline Biologicals and PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, with funding support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are working around the clock to see the malaria initiatives through. But how ready are we to embrace the approaching change?

Successive administrations in Nigeria have launched the Roll Back Malaria Initiative over and over again. But when a tree falls on another, anyone seriously intent on clearing the way must first cut the tree on top.

Similarly, there are numerous barriers in the way of success on the Roll Back Malaria Initiative. Evidently, the proponents of the initiative could not have intended that it should be restricted to the urban areas. But how would we be rolling back malaria when the nearest healthcare centres to most of our rural dwellers are more than 50 kilometres away?

How can we be rolling back malaria when there are no access roads to most parts of our rural communities? Perhaps most importantly, how can we roll back malaria when potable water is alien to the rural dwellers? In fact, all that the rural dwellers have known all their lives is stagnant pond water, which is the natural habitat to all forms of mosquitoes.

Indeed, whoever wants to roll back malaria must first roll back rural abandonment. Past administrations in Nigeria have been at war with themselves – while they have always advocated the arrest of rural-urban migration, they have at the same time concentrated all agents of development – jobs, pipe borne water, electricity, motorable roads, healthcare facilities and other essentials of life – in the urban areas, to the utter neglect of rural areas.

Naturally, people are bound to gravitate towards the urban areas in search of the good life. Even in the so-called urban areas, the good life is today fast taking flight – that’s double tragedy! In the early nineteen-eighties, the defunct Bendel Development and Property Authority, BDPA, came up with the idea of rural housing with pilot schemes intended for Oghada, Uromi, Iruekpen and Agbor.

The idea was projected on the fact that if you take a piece of land even in the most remote part and you provide the basic infrastructure – access road, pipe borne water, electricity, etc. and you then build houses on that piece of land, people would go there and live happily. Before you know it, cottage industries and healthcare facilities would follow.

Again, if the rural folks are assured that when they return from the farm or from their fishing expedition, they have water to drink and take their bath; there is electricity to iron their clothes, listen to radio and watch television, the natural propensity to rush to the urban areas would be drastically reduced. Unfortunately, the BDPA initiative did not go beyond the drawing board. Indeed, it merely succeeded in depriving the people of their farm land.

The time has come for governments across the land to revisit this laudable proposal. Every effort to prevent and cure malaria would come to naught as long as the large segment of our population who live in rural areas is abandoned. Even in the face of all the scientific discoveries, heaven only helps those who help themselves. And for every disease condition, prevention is better than cure. That is why if the new vaccines must lead the pathway to roll back malaria, other traditional preventive measures must be substantially stepped up.

We must leave no stone unturned in keeping malaria at bay. At all times, we must keep the environment clean and devoid of stagnant water while sleeping under insecticide treated nets. At antenatal clinics, intermittent preventive treatments must be made available to pregnant women. At the least suspicion of malaria, people must get properly tested and promptly treated.

Government agencies, the media and Civil Society Organizations must quickly increase public enlightenment campaigns against malaria, with added emphasis on preventive measures. Need we re-iterate that the time has come to stop paying lip service on our healthcare delivery?

There is no escaping the inevitable conclusion that we must enhance our annual budgetary outlays to the health sector, with a view to driving a death knell on this child-killer disease. Our health institutions must be equipped with appropriate human and material resources.

In the fight against malaria, all hands must be on deck, realising that anything that affects all must be approached by all. There is no turning the other cheek. Our laws on the environment must be vigorously enforced to force those citizens who always wait for the push to comply.

For as long as human traffic keeps struggling for the right of way with garbage heaps on our streets and market places, malaria will keep lurking around.

With help around the corner, donor agencies must be ready to partner the various governments in funding the malaria initiatives. Essentially, cleanliness is part of godliness. Citizens owe themselves a duty to remain clean all the time without necessarily waiting to be forced out once every month for environmental sanitation.

~Culled from vanguardngr.com

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