By Syrulwa Somah, PhD (May 2005)
"...Since Liberia was founded 158 years ago, malaria has been one of the principal killers of its people: 4,500 Liberian children die each year from the disease. Across the African Continent, an estimated 500 million people contract malaria every year, up to 2 million die (half of them children), and tens of thousands are left with irreversible brain damage. This terrible death toll is equivalent to sending 27 fully loaded Boeing 757 jetliners crashing into a mountain every single day, year after year..."
Fellow Liberians: politicians, lawyers, doctors, business men and women, educators, combatants, journalists, government officials – I salute you. I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you about an urgent topic.
As a child growing up in Kokoyah, Upper Bong County , I lost more than 15 of my friends, along with three brothers and two nephews, to malaria. I barely survived this disease myself. I know you, too have similar stories. As you read this letter, tens of thousand of our people are bed-ridden in Liberia and in displaced persons’ camps around the globe, due to 14 years civil wars that have made them even more vulnerable. I find it inconceivable, unconscionable and reprehensible that the world can endlessly talk about relatively minor human rights issues like the death penalty for killers or reading emails to prevent terrorism – but then can completely ignore the way developed nations violate Africans’ most basic human rights every day, by preventing them from using readily available methods to control or even eradicate this deadly disease.
Since Liberia was founded 158 years ago, malaria has been one of the principal killers of its people: 4,500 Liberian children die each year from the disease. Across the African Continent, an estimated 500 million people contract malaria every year, up to 2 million die (half of them children), and tens of thousands are left with irreversible brain damage. This terrible death toll is equivalent to sending 27 fully loaded Boeing 757 jetliners crashing into a mountain every single day, year after year. Other insect-borne diseases kill still more thousands of our people every month. The economic effects of these diseases are just as tragic, as they cost nations of the poor African Continent over $12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.
What makes Liberia 's situation especially grave is because of its topography, rainforests and the configuration of its capital city around a major wetland. Malaria is also a major cause of our nation’s (and continent’s) enduring poverty, because malaria victims often cannot work, attend school, cultivate their fields or care for their families for weeks or months at a time. It is essential that you and I develop and implement integrated programs for our nation that will rapidly and permanently bring malaria under control.
In the early 1940s and 1950s, the United States , Europe, Canada and Australia used d ichlorod iphenyltr ichloroethane ( DDT) to wipe out malaria and typhus in their countries. We should be able to do the same – or use other effective and efficient pesticides, some of which cost less than 25 or 50 cents an acre to apply. But we are prevented from doing this, and our people are still dying from these diseases, when the Stockholm Convention makes it clear that DDT may be used by countries that have a malaria problem. As a nation and as concerned, moral people, we cannot afford such misplaced concerns, especially when no other method works as well as DDT or the pesticides Americans are using in Florida and other states to control mosquitoes and diseases they carry.
As the parable goes, When the rope is not around your neck, it is easy to say pull it. Non-Africans, sitting in their air-conditioned homes and malaria-freed environments, can afford to worry about DDT contributing to thinner bird eggshells or finding traces of DDT in animal or human bodies. They tell us we should worry about these things, too. But we have much bigger concerns.
We worry about losing more of our babies – the future of our nations – to malaria. Imagine what would happen if four children were still being killed by malaria every minute in the USA , France , Germany or Japan ! Those nations would not tolerate it. They would use same pesticides they used 40 years ago to get rid of this disease. They did it then, and we should be able to do it today! Our children’s lives depend on it, and their lives are worth as much as American or European lives.
As the Executive Director of Liberian History, Education and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE) I find it compelling that this year’s symposium will address the need for lasting, effective control and eventual eradication of malaria problems in Liberia – just as developed nations like the United States and Europe have done. At this symposium, we will explore cutting-edge technologies and treatments to end the suffering of the Liberian people. The symposium’s goal is two-fold. First, we must tell the world that we are sick and tired of seeing our children die daily from a disease that is readily preventable. Second, we must evaluate every available technology and methodology that can actually help us achieve significant and lasting reductions in malaria disease and death tolls; set the stage for launching effective malaria reduction and eradication programs in Liberia; resolve to overcome political obstacles; and provide lessons for the rest of Africa in all these vital health, environmental, economic and human rights areas.
This is why I am looking you right in the eye and appealing to you as a friend, brother and fellow Liberian. All roads lead to Greensboro , North Carolina on July 29-30, 2005. Please join us.
I know this is a daunting task. But I am convinced that your support will go a long way toward ensuring that we can accomplish this goal – that we can eliminate this terrible epidemic in new republic that new sweeping moon is bringing forth. Do not let anything dim your hope and enthusiasm. Join us! Tell you friends, pastors, bishops, senators, congressman and state representatives that malaria kills four children every minute in Sub-Saharan Africa. Tell them we cannot, and will not tolerate it any longer.
LIHEDE is a non-profit organization organized for educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501(3)(c) of the Internal Revenue Code, including conducting public discussion groups, forums, panels, lectures or other similar programs in a non-partisan manner, and for charitable purposes within the meaning of Section 501(3)(c) relative to defense of human, intellectual and civil rights secured by law.
The purposes and objectives of LIHEDE are literary, educational and charitable in character. They include but are not limited to hosting annual symposiums on African governance and philosophical thought; undertaking programs to educate the American public about African leadership, culture and socio-economic development; arranging and providing a speakers bureau service for Black History Month and related activities; soliciting and providing scholarships to aid deserving Liberian students at home and abroad; and undertaking the writing and publishing of textbooks and other books on Liberia.
Syrulwa Somah, PhD
Executive Director, LIHEDE
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org