By Syrulwa Somah, PhD (January 7th 2006)
"... How can we build a democratic nation when our children are dropping and dying like flies? How can we build a democratic nation when our children are shaking with fever and convulsions, vomit when there is nothing left in their stomachs, and cry out from the pain and thirst?...How can we build a proud nation when our female and male athletics are too weak from malaria or malaria related illnesses to perform to their best during national/ international competitions to make us proud to say son or daughter “come and sit on my old leg and break it”?...”
By the time you finish reading this commentary, 24 African children will be dead on the Black Continent! Who knows? Among the dead may have been the next scientists to find the cure to AIDS/HIV, cancer or the next legendary Queen of Sheba, Nazingha, Mansa Mussa, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, you and I. Thus, throughout history reasons bind that national security, protection of one’s own kind or a nation and people has always been a key preoccupation of mankind since the beginning of time. At first, a husband and wife banded together to protect their family, and soon families banded together into tribes, and tribes into clans, and clans joined together to form nations. In each case, a national security scheme was hatched to protect the more vulnerable members of society, and eventually special protection was provided for the king, queen, town or village chief, the patriarch, priest, artisan, or builder for their special roles in society.
In these early times, the success of each nation rested on the broad shoulders of its citizens and the stout legs of slaves. Every early society took steps to protect its assets (people, farm animals, homes, farms, and personal effects) from marauders and hostile tribes, even if it meant going to war, as in the case with modern societies today. For example, the USA is at war with terrorism because its national security is threatened. Besides, when the news about the bird flu, which is yet to kill a single soul in the USA reached the Bush administration, he did not only derive a $7.1 billion emergency funding, but asked Congress to ensure other countries are better prepared to combat the deadly flu pandemic by stockpiling antiviral drugs, drafting integrated-plan to surveillance the flu, and develop vaccines to inhibit the disease. Such a swift proactive response reinforces my point made later in the commentary that when a disease like deadly flu threatens rich people or threatens our collective global health, economic, military, recreation, education, and food security the world responses immediately. However, if the disease like malaria is regionalized, global response is slow. Hence the afflicted must be heedful and vigilant!
At any rate, even in the animal kingdom, specie security concept is vividly captures---every kind of living organism, animal or insect prioritizes security for purposes of self-defense and longevity. For example, try to kill a roach walking on your kitchen counter, or try to chase down a wild squirrel or a chicken, and you will discover the application of innate defense by these insects and animals for their security in the most unequivocal manners. Many animals have developed remarkable defenses to keep from being killed or harmed, in the same way mankind has put premium on national security.
If you ever visited the countryside in Liberia , grazing animals, apparently for security reasons, often feed in herds. When a predator attacks, the grazing animals scatter and run in different directions, which confuse the predator and allow the animals to escape unharmed. Some animals never venture out too far from home in underground dens or thick vegetations, which permit them to hide quickly when danger approaches. Many other animals exhibit keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing that enable them to detect danger and escape in advance. Still some animals have horns or antlers to fight off predators. Some animals are active only at night when it is harder for predators to find them, while many animals rely on camouflage or the ability to blend in with their surroundings to hide from predators. A few animals are even poisonous or have unpleasant-tasting, and predators soon learn to leave such animals alone.
These poisonous kinds of animals are often brightly colored, as if warning predators to beware. Some animals use chemicals, which they spray from various parts of their bodies to deter predators. For example, when poison dart frogs get agitated or scared, special pores in their skin make a poison that resembles the human sweat. The frogs' backs are coated with the poison and anything that eats them will get very sick and may even die. Because the poison dart frogs have such bright colors, any animal that got poisoned by a frog before will remember not to eat any frog with those colors again. Few other animals rely on trickery and copy the defenses of other animals to protect themselves. To humans, flying in plane or watching the birds fly may be much fun, but birds and scores of other animals use flying as a means to fetch food, and to protect themselves from would be predators and enemies alike.
A good deal of examples has chronicled to make the point that the health of our nation or any group of living colony is essential to all aspects of existence or self preservation. It is definitely treat to national security to see more than 4, 500 Liberians, mostly children losing their lives to malaria annually. It is equally a national security threats for the Liberian people to spend 35 to 40 million on their hard earned dollars on “bogus tablets”, “mosquito spray”, mosquito coils” and on drugs to which malaria has developed resistance at the expense of our children lives. Imagine selling any drugs in the USA that doesn’t work as it is being done in Liberia and other parts of Africa where the malaria parasite resists two of most widely used drugs, but it is still on the market. How can we build a democratic nation when our children are dropping and dying like flies? How can we build a democratic nation when our children are shaking with fever and convulsions, vomit when there is nothing left in their stomachs, and cry out from the pain and thirst? How can we build a democratic nation in a poverty stricken nation as the result of malaria that corrupts 50-60% of our hard sweat earning that are not even disbursed on time? How can we build a democratic society when our policemen, soldiers, immigration officers are too weak to stand on their feet to protect our territorial integrity? How can we build a proud nation when our female and male athletics are too weak from malaria or malaria related illnesses to perform to their best during national/ international competitions to make us proud to say son or daughter “come and sit on my old leg and break it”? How can we build a democratic nation when we fence sit and watch our bright and brightest lapse in comas, suffer permanent brain damage, or are laid in their graves day-in-day out?
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 completely ignore the way developed nations violate our most basic human rights every day, by preventing us from using readily available methods to control or even eradicate this horrible deadly disease. I find it inconceivable, unconscionable and reprehensible that the world can endlessly talk about democracy--but then it never cross their mind about who will be left in our nation to build Liberia , vote in Liberia , and lead our people when malaria is sending our irreplaceable human resources to their graves early? I find it inconceivable, unconscionable and reprehensible that the world can endlessly talk about democracy--but then their soul is quiet, hands put between their legs when priorities are being misdirected in the fight against the number one killer of our people? And how can Liberia build a democratic nation when women of child-bearing age are suffering from anemia are having premature delivery, low birth-weight, epilepsy, and neurological problems, all frequent consequences of malaria, compromise our national security?
Deforestation Increases Malaria Rates
To give you a better picture of this imminent danger of national security, let me begin by telling you where Liberia is coming from, where the country now is, and where I think it ought to be headed. Let me pick up from the argument that I made in my article “ Liberia is at a Brink of Irreversible Environmental/Ecological Impotency” that unquestionably, Liberia ’s environment is no longer that wonderment of colossal geological formations of God's creation that once stirred in the face of Liberians and non-Liberians. The natural beauty of Liberia which includes an abundance of forests covering nearly 14 million acres, including 230 species of useable timber such as Mahogany, palm trees, etc that shield us from malaria is being destroyed at an accelerating pace to deforestation, which has increased the migration and prevalence of mosquitoes’ breeding grounds in our immediate environment. When the forests are destroyed and rain falls, it rises, which lead to rain collecting and stagnating which provides excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes so malaria increases. In other word, our current environmental action has contributed to “Liberian-made” climate change” because some of the plants that control malaria population or medicinal are no more. In recent 2005 study conducted on the Amazon Forest and published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene confirms that tropical deforestation is responsible of increasing rates of malaria (http://www.earthsky.org/shows/show.php). In other words, cutting down all the big trees in Liberia or what we “jungle” for “development” not only make fragile ecosystems but equally noticeably harm public health or national security. For example, two-drug-therapy that includes artemisinin that are been used against malaria come from “Chinese jungle”! No one can tell me that China has more jungle than Liberia that I believe have medicinal trees for malaria . But we allow other nations to come in Liberia to cut down our “jungle” which contributes to malaria increase and not only leave our nation and people with more mundane problems but we are told that spraying our homes to control the flies is the one that will destroy our environment. What an oxymoron!
I have argued that i n the 1950s and 1960s, 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 of this writing Marathon Oil Corporation is working with Noble Energy, Medical Care Development International (MCDI), and the Government of Equatorial Guinea to eradicate malaria where they are extracting oil (nationhttp://www.heartland.org/Article.). The result is 80% effective already!
I have argued that since Liberia was founded 158 years ago, malaria has been one of the principal killers of its people. The World Health Organization agrees that Liberia is one of two nations with the higher rate of malaria in the world! What does that tell Liberians? No wonder why our population is always in the 2 million! I have argued that what makes Liberia 's situation especially grave is its topography, rainforests, rainfall and the configuration of its capital city around a major wetland. Malaria is also a major cause of our nation (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 make sure 2006 proposed malaria conference scheduled for December 14-19 is a success to implement integrated programs for our nation that will rapidly and permanently bring malaria under control.
As a nation and a caring, 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, other states, and next door neighbor where developing have interest and the same treatment become taboo in our nation. As a nation and a caring, moral people, ask yourself what is the underlying problem for which malaria is killing our people in the thousands, more than the Katrina Hurricane, Tsunamis, bird flu, terrorism, AIDS/HIV but a bandage solution is always proposed? My statement doesn’t mean that Katrina Hurricane, Tsunamis, bird flu, terrorism, AIDS/HIV are not worthy of our collective response; my point is to show the terrible death toll of malaria across the African Continent. For example, an estimated 515 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. The economic effects of malaria cases are just as tragic, as they cost nations of the poor African Continent over $12 billion a year in lost gross domestic product.
So why is the underpinning reason for which the world have not taken malaria seriously to respond as in the cases of Katrina Hurricane, Tsunamis, bird flu, terrorism, and AIDS/HIV combined? Let me be very specific and give you another figure for you to see. An estimated 11.7 to 25 million people have died of AIDS since the epidemic began in the early 1980 depending on the school of thoughts. By comparison, a n estimated 600 million people contract malaria annually, 3.5 million deaths annually, and 12 billion dollars economic burden. Can AIDS/HIV be compare to malaria? In fact while AIDS/HIV death is on the decline in places like the USA due to new drugs, malaria is increasingly on the rise (http://www.aegis.com/news/ap/1997/AP970909.html) but now effective new drug in the last 40 years. So why is AIDS/HIV, bird flu, Tsunamis, etc getting more attention? Simply, malaria is poor people disease, meaning that most the death is occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. Did you know that 90% of those who malaria kills and suffer from malaria related illnesses are in rural sub-Saharan Africa ? If malaria were killing rich people and their children around the world you would not be reading this commentary.
Now, where in the world do you hear that a European child dies every 30 seconds from malaria? Where in Europe/world do you hear 800,000 European children die from a curable disease annually? Where in Europe/world do you hear that malaria leaves survivors with significant brain damage and cognitive impairments annually? And where in Europe/world do you hear that malaria not only debilitates those malaria sufferers who escape death, but inflict term impairment for at least a week, and sometimes longer? This is why I mean by a poor man disease.
Obviously, the lack of will on our part, especially developed nations to lobby against malaria threatens our very existence as a people and continent of which Liberia is a part. Malaria is an economic issue since its defeat is essential for poverty reduction, agriculture, food and energy production, democracy, peace, stability, recreation, etc. As such, malaria is a primary disease and the reason for poverty in Africa , so is Liberia . This “rope” has been around your neck for too long. Eradicating malaria is imperative. But most of all, malaria is a fundamental national security issue because it preys most seriously upon pregnant women and young children. Malaria is a fundamental national security issue because it is now the single largest cause of death in Liberia . And if action is not taken now, an estimated 30,000 Liberians will be dead and 240 million dollars spent by the time of the next election (year 2012). How can we build democracy and have peace in such a place? When I call home and ask our poor people in Liberia how are they doing, the first thing you hear is malaria is killing them. If the trend continues, Liberia will be taken over and occupied by other nationals in our life time.
This is why Liberians must “cry out” and be architects and engineers to design the model for national security to defeat malaria. It is no secret that even with all malaria ruinous toll, malaria remains a completely avertable and curable disease. For instance, dispensing tiny amounts of insecticide on the inside walls of houses or huts--known as indoor residual spraying (IRS)--is exceedingly effective at repelling and decimating the mosquitoes that carry the disease. It is no secret that b etter treatment exists but you and I are too slow so the world is slow too. As mentioned before, malaria effect poor people and not developed nations so they are not aggressive to make malaria that has been around 4000BC controlled.
In order to sustain itself as a sovereign and stable state, Liberia must begin to seriously consider ensuring that health is a priority. Health is important for the national growth, peace, stability, and development which are the ingredients of national security. We must commit to:
- LIHEDE long-term (5-10 years) malaria eradication program
- Lobby for bill and law to be duly sanctioned through legislative enactment, and supported by the executive branch of government, and rally the Liberia people to action
Liberians must be aggressive for malaria to be eradicated. For now our failings jeopardize the efficacy of all aspects of our humanity, weaken our sovereignty, and capacity and misuses of our human capital to our detriment. For we can have all the elections, elect all the presidents and be recorded on the pages of the “Guinness Book of World”, until we defeat malaria, we will remain at the bottom of the well. Democracy does not survive where the people are sick, too weak to make farm, learn, compete, and defend their common national boundaries.
About the author:
The author, Syrulwa Somah, Ph.D., is an Associate Tenured Professor of Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health at NC A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is the author of several books, including, The Historical Resettlement of Liberia and It Environmental Impact, Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality, and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration & Government of the Bassa (a book about traditional Bassa leadership and cultural norms published in 2003). Dr. Somah is also the Executive Director of the Liberian History, Education & Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), a nonprofit organization based in Greensboro, North Carolina. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com