By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“The way to be truly happy is to be truly human and the way to be truly human is to be truly godly”
Apart from poverty, another key state of life that engenders unhappiness is affliction by Malaria parasite .
In fact , in much of Africa, economists and statisticians in the health sector have found an inevitable Nexus between malaria fever and poverty.
It is said that poverty afflicted environments are the perfect reading ground for malaria parasite.
But it is equally true that ill health of the type categorized as malaria fever is one of the major causative factor of poverty.
Any wonder then that there is a cohabitation of poverty and malaria fever in Africa given that statistically, African continent houses the largest population of poor people in the world and in 2018, Nigeria entered the inglorious historical ranking as the home of the largest populated poor people thereby overtaking India which has well-over a billion people . India and China are the most populated parts if the World.
What the Above simple arithmetic of the marriage of poverty and malaria parasites shows is that concerted efforts ought to be made and huge investments must be made to combat the twin social evils of poverty and malaria fever.
Whereas the Nigerian government already has a framework for curbing absolute poverty which offers no social safety nets but are more of mere media propaganda, one Nigerian has so far won the admirations of millions of Africans for his solitary effort towards the eradication of malaria parasites and that person incidentally was a member of Nigerian central parliament and a practicing maritime lawyer called Prince Ned Nwoko. He is a friend of the current administration and in his capacity as someone with seamless network of officials working in the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, he has found a synergy between his non governmental platform for the eradication of malaria parasites and key institutions and Cabinet level officials to advance his policy Advocacy on the eradication of malaria parasites in Nigeria and Africa.
He already has set out with some verifiable initiatives to battle the scourge of malaria fever and ironically he shows unquantifiable joy, happiness and satisfaction that he is doing such a job which if successful will cement his name and reputation in the pantheons of human history.
If malaria fever ends in Africa just like it has in China , there is the very likelihood that the name of Ned Nwoko will become legendary for the very heroic reason that he enlisted his human ideas to end one of the African’s most devastating problems.
So, watching Ned Nwoko and his wife Regina Daniels in a high level parley in the media with the president of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio on strategies for ending the menace of malaria fever in Africa brought joy to me .
That meeting reminded me of what I learnt in 2005 in China about how the Chinese fought so hard to end the scourge of malaria fever as documented in a piece written by Economist.com titled appropriately as ‘How China eradicated malaria’
This World’s leading development magazibe says China is the country that went from 30m cases per year to zero in less than eight decades
The Economist.com reports the phenomenal task achieved by the Chinese thus: “MALARIA HAS afflicted humans for thousands of years and has killed people on every continent except Antarctica. It was not until 1880, when Alphonse Laveran, a French military surgeon, performed autopsies on malaria victims, that scientists understood the illness was caused by parasites (Ronald Ross, a British doctor, discovered that it was transmitted via mosquitoes in 1897). In the 20th century alone as many as 300m people may have died of the disease—a chilling 5% of all deaths.
In 2019 87 countries reported a total of 229m malaria cases, yet the illness has been eradicated in many places. On June 30th China was certified “malaria-free” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), a status granted to countries that have seen no transmission of the disease for “at least the previous three consecutive years”.
When he set out to fight malaria parasites, Ned Nwoko stated his objectives and the blueprints which are succinct and pragmatic.
He expressed his faith in the fact that eliminating malaria in Africa requires a consistent approach. Since 2000, when Africa began an aggressive effort to control malaria, significant achievement has been made in controlling the disease in many African countries. Ned Nwoko through the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation is embarking on this project to accelerate the elimination of malaria in Nigeria and other African countries to a point where it will no longer constitute a significant social problem through the following strategies: VACCINE DEVELOPMENT;INTEGRATED VECTOR MANAGEMENT; ADVOCACY AND MOBILIZATION.
These are empirical facts supporting his aspiration and these are the facts that only six countries out of 54 that make up the African continent are recognized by the World Health Organization [WHO] as malaria-free while the remaining 47 are endemic countries. The malaria-free countries are Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Seychelles, Lesotho and Libya.
Besides, as we write four African countries currently account for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide as at 2017. They are Nigeria (25%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%) and Uganda (4%). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are about 200 million cases of malaria infection worldwide annually. Nearly 600,000 deaths result from the cases yearly with 90 percent of the deaths occurring in Africa. The WHO reports show that children are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. For centuries, apart from malaria, mosquitoes have been the vector of several other ailments ravaging Africa such as Yellow fever, Dengue fever, Filariasis and Zika.
Incidentally, the BBC.COM on 23 April 2021 gave the World a story considered as one of the best things to happen to Africans which will reshape their living conditions fundamentally and leads to the actualization of the major plank of the ambitions of Ned Nwoko, the significant African citizen who is waging a war against Malaria parasite.
The British Broadcasting Corporation reports that malaria vaccine has proved to be 77% effective in early trials and could be a major breakthrough against the disease, says the University of Oxford team behind it.
Malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
But despite many vaccines being trialled over the years, this is the first to meet the required target.
The researchers say this vaccine could have a major public health impact.
When trialled in 450 children in Burkina Faso, the vaccine was found to be safe, and showed “high-level efficacy” over 12 months of follow-up.
Larger trials in nearly 5,000 children between the ages of five months and three years will now be carried out across four African countries to confirm the findings.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through mosquito bites. Although preventable and curable, the World Health Organization estimates there were 229 million cases worldwide in 2019 and 409,000 deaths.
The illness starts with symptoms such as fever, headaches and chills and, without treatment, can progress quickly to severe illness and often death.
‘Major health impact’
Study author Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute and professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said he believed the vaccine was the first to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of at least 75% efficacy.
The most effective malaria vaccine to date had only shown 55% efficacy in trials on African children.
The trials of this malaria vaccine started in 2019, long before coronavirus appeared – and the Oxford team developed its Covid vaccine (with AstraZeneca) on the strength of its research into malaria, Prof Hill said.
A malaria vaccine has taken much longer to come to fruition because there are thousands of genes in malaria compared to around a dozen in coronavirus, and a very high immune response is needed to fight off the disease.
“That’s a real technical challenge,” Prof Hill said. “The vast majority of vaccines haven’t worked because it’s very difficult.”
However, he said the trial results meant the vaccine was “very deployable” and “has the potential to have a major public health impact”.
‘Tool for saving lives’
In a pre-print study with The Lancet, the research team – from Oxford, Nanoro in Burkina Faso and the US – reported the trial results of R21/Matrix-M, after testing a low and high dose of the vaccine in children, between May and August, before peak malaria season.
The vaccine showed 77% efficacy in the higher-dose group and 71% in the lower-dose group.
Halidou Tinto, professor in parasitology and the principal trial investigator at the Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro, Burkina Faso, said the results were “very exciting” and showed “unprecedented efficacy levels”.
“We look forward to the upcoming ‘phase III’ trial to demonstrate large-scale safety and efficacy data for a vaccine that is greatly needed in this region.”
In Africa, there have been more deaths from malaria than from coronavirus in the past year.
The Serum Institute of India, which has manufactured the vaccine, says it is confident of delivering more than 200 million doses of the vaccine as soon as it is approved by regulators.
Biotechnology company Novavax provided the adjuvant for the vaccine, an ingredient which is used to create a stronger immune response.
Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa and Prof Charlemagne Ouédraogo, minister of health in Burkina Faso, said the new data showed that a new malaria vaccine could be licensed “in the coming years”.
“That would be an extremely important new tool for controlling malaria and saving many lives,” he said.
As a conclusion, we recommend that the Federal Government stay focused and partner with corporate bodies working to eradicate Malaria parasite but there had to be verifiable, transparent and functional strategies to ameliorate the absolute poverty that afflicts over 90 million Nigerians because achieving holistic eradication of malaria parasites can’t happen if Nigeria remains the poverty capital of the World. We must make hay whilst the Sun Shines.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is the Intellectual director of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights commission of Nigeria.