Swearing by 2020
Have you realised that the world has on its hands a number of “by 2020s”? Collectively, we seem to have set numerous ultimatums, targets; and made declarations all promising fruition “by 2020”. Collectively in our individual nations, collectively on our respective continents, regions, sub-regions; and collectively globally, we set, for ourselves, a number of goals, cutting across in fields: in health, science and technology, development, etc.
Globally, member states of the UN adopted for ourselves, in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Out of these 17-part goals with their 169 targets, 21 of these targets had the “by 2020” mark. To name a few: we set out to end deforestation and restore degraded forests by 2020; to “…by 2020 protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.”; “to conserve and restore terrestrial freshwater ecosystem by 2020”; to, by 2020, reduce by half the number of deaths and injuries resulting from road traffic accidents globally.
We pledged in the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in what was termed the 90-90-90 targets, to “diagnose 90% of all HIV-related persons; provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated by 2020.” It is an endless list. We thought 2020 would never come, didn’t we?
Continentally, Africa with her Diaspora, “rededicating” herself to Pan Africanism and its ideals—to build “an Africa we want” adopted for herself ‘Agenda 2063’. And within its elaborate list of ‘Aspirations’, is the target to eradicate “all remnants of colonialism” on the African continent “by 2020.” In our bid to ensure a “peaceful and secure Africa”, we avowed to put mechanisms in place such that “…by 2020, all guns will be silent” and will subsequently “[end] all wars in Africa by 2020”
There were predictions too by supposed informed minds: they said China would be the largest economy in the world by 2020. (I’m going to desist from treating this sentence as some sort of set-up to a punchline—Keyword: COVID-19—for China has demonstrated such capacity for exponential growth over the years, so much so that the joke would eventually be on us, should we attempt any Chinese Economy/COVID-19 wisecrack.)
But that is beside the point…
Hiding behind numbers
In this longline of “by 2020s”, we find the malaria-specific declarations. In 2016, the WHO prophesied that by 2020, 21 countries worldwide could be malaria-free; 6 countries in this redemption set were African countries—and no, Ghana did not form part. But these prophecies seem murky now with COVID-19, and with the WHO crying wolf—some believe—saying that malaria deaths on the African continent could double this year “IF insecticide-treated bed net distribution stops, and case management reduces…”
On the national level, Ghana, for one, adopted for herself the National Malaria Control Strategic Plan 2014-2020 with an overarching aim to “reduce malaria morbidity and mortality burden by 75% by the year 2020”
2020 pulled a fast one on us all, didn’t it? Because in the swamp of confusion, desperation COVID-19 has caused globally, little attention has been left for all these other global issues, targets, and aspirations; key among them, in Africa especially, for malaria—“one of our oldest foes” Ghana’s First Lady called it. Very apt.
Malaria-specific declarations scream Africa, for the continent is the malaria hub of the era. 9 out of 10 patients worldwide are Africans; 9 out of every 10 malaria deaths are from Africa. Almost 60% of malarial deaths are in children under 5 years old. In all, children under 15 years form more than two-thirds of malaria deaths. The disease, unlike COVID-19, is more fatal in the young than the old. Annually, the disease kills about one million people; kills one child every second. It is not picky in its picking of its victims: nearly half of the world’s population are at risk of the disease annually—though it remains most prevalent in pregnant women and children under age 5.
I am boring you with these numbers, aren’t I? I sure am boring my own self. I find that in such citations of figures, we tend to drift off, forgetting that it is, in fact, human lives hiding behind, represented by these numbers.
I am boring you because subconsciously you have ruled out malaria as a disease you could possibly die from. It is a disease so rampant, widespread, and relentless that it has attained such household status—a household name; a household excuse. You figure malaria is just an ongoing excuse you use to get out of work, school, meetings. It is such a tried-and-true, full-proof excuse that should you, on your wedding day get cold feet, you can write a convincing letter addressed from yourself to your prospective spouse’s family explaining that you have, after a short battle with malaria, in fact died, and expect to be believed.
Opportunity for Excellence
Yet this is not the result malaria’s ubiquity should produce in us. This household nature of the disease, accompanied by its longstanding feature of morbidity and mortality ought to keep us on guard. Belittling malaria would be our (Africa’s) undoing—a disease very much preventable and treatable yet so common that the seriousness due it is mostly denied it hence, a snake under grass, it continues to reign as one of the world’s deadliest diseases. We must be on guard in our preventive and control measures and remain so against this disease until its eradication on the continent—very importantly, we must remain steadfast in our research into the disease.
Since Africa leads the way in pure numbers in malarial infections and deaths in this era, it should be expected that the continent would lead the way too in malaria researches, shouldn’t it? I hate to sound like a broken record so I am going to desist from citing public/private partnerships, university/industry collaborations, research universities, etc. as means of spearheading the research in, thus fight against malaria. Success stories in the field of malaria research (basic and applied) should be largely ours—Africa’s, for the disease is, without argument, largely ours.
The work of African researchers should be highlighted and must be subject to ongoing influx of funding and support from domestic governments and organisations. African nations, with their perceived scant resources must begin prioritising domestic funding of malaria research as one key approach, in the slew of approaches, towards eradicating the disease, especially since global funding of malaria research for the continent has been erratic and problematic…
Credit: Modern Ghana