Malaria vaccine arrives!

BY: Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Retd)
Malaria vaccine
Malaria vaccine

October 2021 hit the ground running! Tanzania’s Abdurazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 8, 2021, only the second time an African has done so since Nigerian Professor Wole Soyinka won it in 1986.

Incidentally, until his retirement recently, Mr Gurnah was a Professor in English and Postcolonial Literature at the University of Kent, Canterbury.

As I listened to him on BBC soon after the Nobel Foundation broke the news to him, he said he was “surprised and humbled.” On October 14, 2021, the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) congratulated Mr Gurnah for the honour to African writers.

Malaria vaccine

Earlier, October 6, 2021, medical history was made with the announcement by the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Gebreyesus, in Nairobi, Kenya that the much awaited vaccine for the world’s greatest killer, malaria, had finally been approved for a roll-out.

This was after trials in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya since 2019 involving over 800,000 children. Somehow, the reception to this news in Ghana appeared rather subdued despite Ghana’s contribution in the vaccine trials and the headlines this made on major news media such as the BBC.

It was received with similar marginal enthusiasm Ghana’s 3-1 victory over Zimbabwe was in the Football World Cup Qualifiers at the Robert Mensah Stadium, Cape Coast on Saturday, October 9, 2021.

Interestingly, in the world heavyweight tournament over that weekend, some boxing fans kept vigil into the early hours of Sunday, October 10, 2021 to watch Tyson Fury beat Deontay Wilder by an 11th round knockout.

Casualties

Malaria kills one person every two minutes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, about 260,000 African children under five years die every year from malaria.

This first roll-out vaccine produced by the British pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, has a 39 per cent success rate against malaria, and 29 per cent against severe malaria.

Low as these figures may appear, they constitute a bold start in the long quest for a vaccine for malaria. Again, four doses are to be administered to children by age two. These “teething problems” notwithstanding, it is hoped that the second phase of the vaccine will have a higher success rate improving on the prototype.

While solace is taken from the saying “better late than never”, a question asked on BBC on October 6, 2021 was, why did it take 30 years to produce a vaccine for malaria when that for COVID-19 could be done in one year?

Much as I tried to understand the explanation given, I could not. However, I heard it said that the huge capital investment in the project was a factor which caused the delay.

Obviously, malaria is considered an African problem which mainly kills Africans. So, why should the 54 independent African countries on a continent where a head of state’s son’s wedding attracts over 100 private jets, expect others to philanthropically invest in saving the lives of African children when their leaders prioritise private jets over lives?

In July 2021, citing “poor internet connection” in his malaria-prone country as a reason, an African president flew with a ten-person entourage, including his family to the United Kingdom (UK) for a two-day virtual conference.

To say the organisers were amazed is an understatement! Africa! For that leader of a country with a 2020 per-capita-income of around $US1,000 to fritter away money so casually, when such money could help solve his internet problems, and contribute to malaria-control, is unconscionable!

Professor Wangari Maathai

Kenyan Professor Wangari Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her Green Belt Movement’s extraordinary effort to plant over fifty-one million trees in Kenya, at the risk of her life, said this in her book “The Challenge for Africa”: “Poor leadership, bad governance, foreign exploitation of resources, climate change, unfair commodity pricing, brain drain are the bane of Africa!

Apart from being ridiculous, it is immoral for African leaders to fly to lenders to ask for debt-forgiveness for loans misused. Sadly, they seem to think others should charitably finance their profligacy!

Paradoxically, it is out of the resources that we sell cheaply to them in raw materials that they make the money we go borrowing.

The Pandora Papers have mentioned some corrupt African leaders hiding stolen money in off-shore accounts. In the BBC comedy “The Resident Presidents” on

Friday, October 15, 2021, the two actors “Presidents” Kibarkingmad and Olushambles teasingly said some African presidents not yet named are having sleepless nights, scared about Pandora Papers’ impending revelations!

While Ghana, Malawi and Kenya have been praised for providing human-beings for the vaccine-trials, in future we should go beyond that, to producing vaccines ourselves!

Leadership, lead with conscience! Fellow Ghanaians, wake up!

The writer is a Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya & Council Chairman, Family Health University College, Accra.
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