Its Children’s Day, the celebration mist gathers momentum, curling through the world and wherever children are welcome. The continent is not spared; after all, one of the positives of the African worldview is the desire to have “umuaka.” (Ever wondered why abortion will remain contentious in this clime). Nonetheless, many factors militate against children and in Africa, malaria is chief. It is said that one African child dies of malaria every thirty seconds.
Of late, I’ve taken a fancy in studying the media strategies in the control of malaria. Aside being the number one public health problem in Nigeria (Onwujekwe et al, 2005), malaria is also responsible for the death of one out of every five children (United Nation Population Division, 2002). Malaria which decimates the poor and voiceless – especially women and children – remains essentially a tropical (read African) disease.
Ordinarily, the dreadful situation should have necessitated an intense media squall. On the contrary, a spiral of silence waves in the wind. Typically, an annual ritual of stories and commentaries make the rounds during the World Day for Malaria, and after that, it’s just silence. On the other hand, we have been satiated with an overdose of the campaign against HIV and AIDS. With many agencies dumping misinformation on the continent and flushing down imported models down our throats.
On face level, there seems to be no substantial difference between a child and a pikin. Save for the accidental linguistic disparity between the English and Pidgin (not Pidgin English) etymologies, the pikin and child seem to be synonyms. However, pikin signifies the kpakos, the numb majority in Africa while child envelops the botas from the upper and middle class. As malaria is more prevalent in semi-urban and rural areas, it means that pikins die like flies from the illness.
The reasons for the high mortality and morbidity are obvious. Many people cannot afford the high cost of anti-malaria medicines, the reliance on herbal cocktails is high and recourse to the hospital is usually as a last resort. When orthodox therapy is preferred, it is usually the quarks that are consulted. Those who despite all odds make it to see a doctor, most times do not keep to the regimen of the prescribed medicines. This leads to resistant strains of the malaria parasite and more deaths.
The prevention of choice is using Insecticide Treated Nets (ITN). “At least 80% of children less than five years of age and pregnant women sleep under ITN by 2010 and sustain coverage until 2013”, is one of the strategic plans of the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) of Nigeria’s Ministry of Health. Quite ambitious, though I wonder how they intend to get the rural poor to acquire these nets. Even if the nets are free, that will not automatically translate into adoption. If those who can afford these nets hardly use it, what will happen to those who cannot afford it?
I just hope the NMCP’s strategic plan is not made on the archaic developmental assumption that those at the top know it all. “It takes two to have a handshake”, goes a proverb. Malaria control should also involve those who are worse hit and in so doing engage them in finding a solution.
While the gymnastic continues, the cry of the African pikins pierces our consciousness, accusing each of us, of not doing enough to clear malaria out of the continent. If only more agencies will match the malaria war with the same fanatical zeal they have for HIV and AIDS. Most likely, more pikins will be live to celebrate next year’s Children’s Day.