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Ghana: At war with the mosquito

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Last week it was reported that Algeria and Argentina had been declared by the World Health Organization as malaria-free countries. I received this information with mixed feelings. It was because I began to wonder whether Ghana would one day dream of becoming free of malaria too. I have always believed that most things are within our reach, yet seem too far away to be achieved.

Algeria like most African countries has been plagued by mosquitoes through its history. Records indicate that by the 1960s, malaria had become the country’s primary health challenge, with an estimated eighty thousand cases reported each year. However, using a combination of well-trained health workforce, the provision of malaria diagnosis and treatment through universal health care, and rapid response to disease outbreaks, there have been no reported cases in the last year.

I would have wished that this was a story that was being told of Ghana. Sadly, the reality is I do not see Ghana dealing with the problem of malaria anytime soon. To start with, the main ingredients that result in the breeding of the mosquito in whom the malaria parasite thrives are things that we are not prepared to deal with.

I would have wished that this was a story that was being told of Ghana. Sadly, the reality is I do not see Ghana dealing with the problem of malaria anytime soon. To start with, the main ingredients that result in the breeding of the mosquito in whom the malaria parasite thrives are things that we are not prepared to deal with. The level of filth ranging from garbage, plastics, blocked gutters et cetera that we see on a daily basis have no signs of dwindling. For many of us, we have become so accustomed to this unsightliness and see that as the new normal. It is as though we have resigned ourselves to the fact that malaria is part of our daily lives and treatment is the only option available to us. This misconception is one that we must tackle head-on if we ever dream of eradicating malaria.

As a country with average incomes near the poverty line, I find this approach of ours simply ironic. To start with the financial toll a bout of malaria takes on our households is one we cannot ignore. In real terms, many families could have put these monies to better use. Unfortunately, in our typical approach, we have become accepting of the condition and go into mitigation anytime a suggestion that eradication is possible is made. As though we have been bewitched, we have watched whilst huge industries have been built to further the nest of this status quo. From those who import or manufacture insecticide sprays and mosquito nets through to the pharmaceutical industry, we have watched as the world has profited from our failure to act.

Our dissonance is no longer funny. Rather than have closed drains, we elect to construct them open. And when we do our brains are wired in a way that we conspire to dump refuse into these thereby clogging them up and creating breeding sites for mosquitos. As if that’s not enough, we ignore the laws of the land and out of greed build premises for public renting that lack basic sanitation amenities. The result being our public toilets which are often next to public refuse sites have become auxiliary breeding grounds for mosquitos too. Therefore, apart from the unbearable stench that patrons have to endure whilst easing themselves, they are in a constant battle with these insects too. Talk of us showing civility to ourselves and I would burst into fits of laughter.

The utter disrespect we show to our water bodies cannot be described or imagined. Across the entire country, we have conspired to either recklessly dam them for illegal mining activities, convert them for building settlements or deforested their sources to the point where the environment offers them little protection. In the end, we have curtailed the swift flow that prevents the mosquito larvae from breeding and created a manmade haven for mosquitos; smart thinking for the mosquito to dwell in our daft pity.

It is a matter of choice and involves discipline and behavioural adjustment. It requires us to also accept that no external entity can be helpful in this fight if as a country we are not determined to see this through. As Algeria has proven and Mauritius did back in 1973, this fight can be won irrespective of the what your neighbouring countries get up to.

The state will have to accept that the farce of political expediency is part of the reason why we are far behind in our effort to defeat this disease. This war can be won if we are prepared to convert our environmental lawlessness to lawfulness. To do this will require taking a look at our approach to sanitation. Our laws in this area must be moved from discretionary decorative suggestions and implemented without sympathy. Citizens would not become sanitation conscious on their own. It will take education and enforcement to achieve this. However, the economic, health and developmental benefit that will result would far outstrip any short-term political backlash. Would our politicians believe this? I sincerely doubt.

As citizens, it will require all of us speaking up against irresponsible neighbours who dump their garbage into drains and landlords who build with no regard for sanitation. This will mean a deviation from the normal of ignoring wrongdoing in the name of preserving the peace. In reality, preserving the peace under these circumstances is the height of irresponsibility. Let’s remember that, “the really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

More controversially, it will require safeguarding of our water bodies through the removal of structures whether permanent or temporary that obstruct them. It will also require those who conspire with foreigners to destroy our water bodies to be locked up in dungeons and the keys thrown away. I will conclude by reminding you all that just like corruption, we will only begin the journey towards the elimination of malaria when we stop paying lip service and begin to act. Until then we will continue to marvel at the achievement of Algeria with little to learn from their success.

By Kwame Sarpong Asiedu

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