By Syrulwa Somah, PhD
(March 17th 2006)
A Speech Delivered
Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith and Monrovia Open Bible Standard Church
March 5, 2006
Syrulwa Somah, PhD
(Executive Director, Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), Greensboro, NC & Associate Professor, Environmental and Occupational Safety & Health< Greensboro, University, State A&T NC )
Presiding Joseph K. Garway; Officers and members of the Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith Associations, Inc.; Senior Pastor/Bishop Charles Z. Barwon, Open Bible Standard Church of Liberia, fellow Liberians and Friends of Liberia; Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honored by your invitation to be here, and I want to thank you for your warm welcome and introduction. I think it is about time in Liberia for every denomination, every church, every pastor; Imam, bishop, or priest in the country to preach about the negative effects malaria has on our people and our country. We need to eradicate malaria in Liberia in order to give God’s children more time, a healthy time, to worship Him. We cannot afford to concern ourselves only with where our souls will go after we die and forget about the physical body that houses our souls.
Friends and brothers, we are living in a difficult time in Liberia. The 14-year civil war destroyed everything we had, including the pride we once had for ourselves, so we need to work very hard to rebuild our lives and our country. But we cannot build up ourselves and our country if we are sick constantly from common diseases like malaria. I think you know if you are sick with malaria you don’t have the strength to do anything. And this is why my organization, the Liberian History, Education, and Development, Inc. (LIHEDE), is trying to do something about getting rid of malaria in Liberia. We are holding a conference in Monrovia this coming December to discuss how we can combat malaria and other common diseases in Liberia so you and I can be healthy as we go about rebuilding our lives and our country. For these and other reasons, I would now like to draw your attention to the title of my speech, “Getting Rid of Malaria in Liberia for Redevelopment.”
First, I want to again thank you for taking time off of your busy schedules to be here. I'm honored that so many of you came out for this occasion. It gives me a great chance to share some thoughts with you as we begin to enjoy our new era—the post-election era in Liberia—that I believe is going to be a fantastic era in our national history. I look forward to answering some questions you may have on membership in LIHEDE and what we stand for as an organization.
I know some of you have heard that LIHEDE is spearheading campaign or making the case that our people have suffered too much of malaria when malaria is a curable infectious disease. We in LIHEDE want to impress on you not to let anyone fool you that we cannot get rid of malaria in Liberia. The technology to kill mosquitoes and disrupt their life cycle is available. Many countries, including the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, and others have used this technology effectively to get rid of malaria, and Liberia can use the same technology to get of its mosquito population, which is the main source of malaria in Liberia.
Our nation and people stand to gain nothing by sitting on the fence and seeing our wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who appreciate life just the rest of us die in droves from malaria. We have not given this disease a serious look or what we called a “good whipping” in Liberia because some of our leaders and educated people say we are used to malaria. The statistics on what is happening in Liberia or Africa is frightening when compared to other people living in the western world. For example, African women are 175 times more likely to die in childbirth and pregnancy than Westerners due to malaria. Equally important, I do not know of any place on this planet earth where a child dies every 30 seconds or where about 3 million people are buried annually from a curable infectious disease like malaria besides sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, 90% of all malaria deaths, mostly children, happened on the African Continent. We must change this trend in Liberia.
We cannot afford to lose one Liberian to malaria. We need every Liberian man, woman, or child to rebuild Liberia. Hence, we must act now to get rid of malaria before it gets too late for our families and friends. Right now, statistics show that tens of thousands of people who survive the ordeal of malaria are likely to suffer severe disabilities, maternal anemia in the case of women, and low birth weight in the case of babies.
Role of Malaria Induced Miscarriage in Liberia
Malaria is one of the key causes of miscarriages among women in Liberia. When the mosquito bites a mother-to-be, merozoites invade her body and destroy her red blood cells. When a pregnant woman develops malaria it enters the placenta, which is very dangerous because the malaria parasites multiply and continue to burst the cells of the placenta. This activity usually damages placental integrity, thereby interfering with the ability of the placenta to transport nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, which the woman needs for the upkeep of herself and the baby in the womb. Infection of the placenta, therefore, increases the risk of stillbirth and miscarriages among women in general.
Malaria doesn’t stop at the placenta because it also destroys the national or local economy and exacerbates poverty in our nation. Besides the emotional toll of a grieving mother and her family, the socio-economic penalties of malaria in our nation is a major impediment, meaning it is the number one cause of poverty because it uses up our resources (about $40 million annually) for its prevention and control.
For example, malaria impacts our national economy on a number of levels including but not limited to households and communities, the private sector, government and the macro economy. Throughout our 158 years of existence, poverty and inequalities in living standards have been exacerbated, as government resources continued to come under increased pressure, while the private sector continued to face reduced investment, growth, profits and inflow of foreign currency. The direct economic costs of malaria prevention and treatment at the household level are the main causes of poverty in Liberia, considering that an employee earns between $150 and $200 a month, and he or she has a spouse and two or more children who must buy mosquito stray or coils for 30 days and visit the doctor for treatment regularly. Keep in mind that there are also indirect economic costs such as up to 10 days absenteeism from farm work and school, especially among school teachers and staff members.
Simply put, malaria doesn’t only shrink the developing brains of malaria-inflicted babies but children who are repeatedly inflicted with malaria also become what we called, “dull” (poor concentration in class and poor scholastic performance) to learn in Liberia. In addition to direct and indirect causes and impairment to the mental alertness of Liberian children, other social costs such as incurred debts, bereavement, sickness, and death (irreplaceable loss of our nation talented and wealth) harm our socio-economic and spiritual development as well.
Now, how anyone in his or her right mind can say Liberians are used to malaria? How anyone can say that tablets and research alone are better treatment for malaria? Brethren, let me tell you something about research. I love research but if it is manipulated to serve ugly purpose we must unequivocally reject it. I say to you from now on enough is enough. Too many researches have not solved the malaria problem in Liberia, so now is the time to act to seek alternatives.
Brothers and sisters, let me bring to the limelight many studies conducted in Liberia since the early 1950s before I was born--all showing the seriousness of the malaria crisis. For example, malariametric surveys since 1951 have continually revealed at least mesoendemic conditions in Monrovia and hyperendemic conditions in the rest of Liberia. How many times do we need to be told? Again, in 1988, research found that one half of the population of Liberia was infected with the malaria parasite, including one third of all infants and over one-half of all children. How many times we need to be told?
Other studies have indicated that, in Monrovia and its suburbs, at least one third of the population carries the malaria disease, including one fourth of all infants and more than one third of young children. This means that even non-infected mosquitoes have a 1 in 3 chance of picking up malaria parasites and infecting the next person they bite. Again, how time should be told?
Similarly, a nationwide children’s health survey, conducted between February and July of 1986, found that one of every two children had had fever during the four week period prior to the survey. In 67% of the cases, the child was between twelve and seventeen months old. A 1988-89 report showed that the greatest number of pediatric hospitalization cases was for malaria. In 1984 it was reported that 144 out of 1,000 infants would die before their first birthday and that 220 would die before reaching age five. That is, more than one in every five newborn children is dying before reaching age five. The results remain of these research are with us but the flies are still with us too.
In hindsight, these researches are a tour de force of articulate misdirection. For how many times will these damn flies be researched? We shouldn’t be sucked into this research stuff any more. As the saying goes, the only good mosquito is a dead one. This must be our choice—to eradicate malaria in Liberia! If you love Liberia and want democracy to blossom, help to get rid of malaria in Liberia today!
Brethren, now on a more serious note. How can those who say they love this nation and those who try to bring democracy to our front door leave us at the mercy of malaria by promoting research over eradication of malaria and expect us to build a great nation? How can building a mighty military with million of dollars take precedent over the eradication of malaria? I wonder how a solider sick with malaria can defend our nation, how can a teacher sick with malaria teach our children, and how can a pregnant woman with malaria give uncomplicated birth to the next healthy generation of children?
I believe pampering malaria is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon our people. Jesus didn’t fight malaria but he not mute on the issue of social justice in Mathew 10:42 “I was hungry and you didn't feed me, naked and you didn't clothe me, sick and you didn't visit me, in prison and you didn't care. And the Lord will say be accursed you evil doers because whatever you did to the least of these your brothers, you did it to me.” Saint John avers that we can not love God whom we don't see unless we love our brothers and sisters.
Take this message to your Pastor, Deacon, Priest, Imam, Pope, choirs so their voice can he heard over the hills, valleys, mountains, everywhere, from length and breadth of our nation that malaria only inspires the culture of death. Take this message to them that malaria is killing God’s precious sons and daughters of Liberia. The religious communities cannot afford to remain mute of the issues of malaria. No one can love God unless he loves his neighbor. And I believe that Liberia is a member of the religious communities of the world.
Malaria knows one thing: death. No nation or people have the right to make malaria kill our children while they preach “research only” and environmental protection, when they would not send their little children to spend a night in Africa without securing adequate protection against malaria. The irony is that developed nations and those who pumped millions of dollars into research know exactly what to do to get rid of malaria in their nation. No one can claim to be caring for our welfare and democracy by violating our God’s given right to life. To continue to allow these deadly mosquito flies to decimate our future generation in the womb of the mother and the mother-to-be is a very serious crime and human rights violation. Until we as a people and nation collectively do something about malaria, our socio-economic, cultural, and poverty woes will not only continue, but will also cause stillbirth to undermine economic growth and democratization in Liberia.
This is why all Liberians regardless of our differences and memberships in particular organizations, must “cry out” and be architects and engineers to implement LIHEDE long-term (5-10 years) malaria eradication program in Liberia beginning with the December 14-19 National Conference in Liberia. The LIHEDE’s plan includes but not limited to a program capacity to do aerial spraying, mechanized ground fogging, manual ground fogging, interior residual spraying and removal of breeding places. The eradication process also includes treatment to kill adult mosquitoes, as well as larvaciding to disrupt the life cycle of mosquitoes, alongside a massive radio campaign to rally the nation.
We in LIHEDE believe we cannot build a democratic nation when our children are dropping and dying like flies. We cannot build a democratic nation when our children are shaking with fever and convulsions or vomit when there is nothing left in their stomachs, and thereby cry out from the pain and thirst. We cannot build a proud nation when our female and male athletes are too weak from malaria or malaria-related illnesses to perform to their best during national and international competitions to make us proud to the extend that we can say, “My son or daughter, come and sit on my old leg and break it.”
There is also something I must tell you. There is direct link between how Monrovia was built and continues to be built and malaria prevalence. A century ago, the common belief was that the way we constructed homes in Monrovia would have sustained us as a healthy nation but we were all wrong. The unplanned construction of Monrovia (the country's principal city) where between 90% and 100% of the population is exposed on a continuous basis to malaria has not caught the attention of conventional researchers either. A decade of continued explosive population growth, random housing units and other buildings—another house bed room facing another bad rooms, septic tank next to well, wastewater dumping everywhere have made Monrovia a breeding ground for falciparum and malariae. Hence, Monrovia will never be the "Shining city on a hill," unless we changed policies, unless we expanded opportunity, the deterioration of this city is spreading. We cannot afford to fail again not to begin planning. The price is too high to keep tossing with the idea of a new capital but do nothing.
Fellow Liberians, we shouldn’t see building a new capital as an illusion. It can be done! Nigeria, Ghana, and other African nations were able to find suitable locations to construct a new capital, far away from swampy areas or lowlands. Studies show that cities built in the 1800s near swampy areas, lowlands, and water ways, like that of Liberia, had histories of the prevalence of malaria. In cities like Ostia, Tet, Borsig, Rome, and other urban areas built in Greece, Iraq, and China, the incidence of malaria is low or nonexistent.
In fact, the US that we are emulating didn’t always have Washington, DC as the capital of the United States. Washington didn’t exist in 1789 because the capital was located temporarily in New York City. From there it went to Philadelphia before the 1790 Act of Congress gave President George Washington the Residence Act empowering him to select a site for a new nameless capital. If this city, Monrovia, can do it should we plan ahead of time, then we must try.
Brethren, it is important to realize that the high incidence of malaria is due to environmental economic, changes in the ecology, poor planning of the city's infrastructures, inadequate building plans, outdated city designs, polluted waters, and poor sanitation. Apart from the pools, muddy lakes, marshes, wet lands under the rain forests and plains areas are serving as mosquito breeding grounds, Monrovia was never a completely planned city prior to construction. Good sanitation depended on urban disinfection, sanitary engineering, sewage treatment, waste water control, waste water' municipal treatment, sludge treatment and the construction of roadways for easy collection of waste.
We must now go beyond the myth that Monrovia is Liberia or the only city. Our present-day Monrovia is already obsolete and it is threatening to make other diseases engulf us and permanently destroy us because it was never a planned city. For example, Monrovia is around 50,000 acres, and within it lies a mangrove swamp or wetland of some 15,000 to 20,000 acres – a nearly perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and malaria that peppered our people every night. Monrovians live close to these wetlands and the rain forests that surround our city. An additional the eutrophicated “Sohnii River” that divides Monrovia into halves, 2,000 acres of swamp land surrounds the outlying area, with all these additional breeding grounds lying within 1.2 miles of the city, well within the flying range of the anopheles mosquito.
While we appeal to the international community to come to our help, constructing a new capitol that we all have been lip service to is a must. We must at the same time dream big so big to choose progress over stagnation, so big to choose science over superstition, so big to choose prosperity over depression, so big to choose conservation over wastefulness, so big to beauty over ugliness, so big to choose serenity over tensions, so big to choose enchantment over drabness, so big to choose wealth over squalor, so big to choose cleanliness over dirtiness, so big to choose efficiency over inefficiency, so big to choose success over failure, so big to choose convenience over inconvenience, so big to choose comfort over discomfort, so big to choose security over insecurity, and so big to send malaria to the dustbin of our existence so as to choose health over disease, and happiness over unhappiness.
Why New Capital is a Must
Monrovia is obsolete because it is unable to meet our future need. The mammoth waste and inefficiency of Monrovia must be replaced by the new efficient, beautiful but practical, city of our new republic. Let me now tell you why keeping Monrovia is not a good idea. If we are to upgrade the streets in Monrovia, police and fire stations expanded, undertake neighborhood revitalization, housing and street upgrades for new residents, then it would take leveling the whole of Monrovia. That in itself would be grounds for discord. And we all know we do not want no more civil war!
For example, the problems with slums, traffic congestion, economic waste, streets and sidewalks, parking lots, garages and meters, telephone poles and wires, fire hydrants, traffic lights and signs, street lights, delivery mails are just a few of the mundane for which must strategize now.
The new capital city of Liberia will solve all these problems. It would provide planned or coded residential apartments, commercial offices, retail businesses, recreation areas, large cafeterias, airfields, government ministries, and a host of other facilities. You may ask what we are going to do with Monrovia. It will be our port city and museums, tourism, etc. For the envisioned new capital must not be connected with, be a part of, or be located in any present-day city. To be effective and efficient, it ought to be constructed from scratch using GIS to select an ideal spot that will be reach to other cities of the nation. The city should be planned and all affordable buildings and luxury building should be redesigned to make mail delivery, trash, garbage, waste and recycling possible.
Fellow Liberians, the possibilities to out live Monrovia are endless. We must tap into the ingenuity of our Liberian engineers around the world and friendly nations to design the efficient city to be built with in the nest 15-25 years. We must use our time to unleash our latent inventive genius because such a development will tend to work for the benefit of all Liberians and friends of Liberia. Benefits for the new city residents are good city services — such as fire and police departments, city maintenance, and educational facilities, mail delivery services, parks and recreation, public library, community centers, clean streets, re-cycleable, landfills, efficient transportation system, and so forth.
In conclusion, if the Liberian nation and its people are to participate fully in the bright prospects of democracy, it is necessary for us to be healthy and strong so we can take an active part in nation’s reconstruction. It is of primary importance that the government addresses its citizens' health and social welfare problems with a vision for the future. A new burst of nationalism must come forth from all our people working under one umbrella of brotherhood for the total and uncompromised eradication of malaria in Liberia.
The era during which Liberia was built never provided the atmosphere and political climate to channel the national energy into the construction of Monrovia that would have made malaria control easy. Even though there was a plan for the town of Monrovia in 1831, observation shows that the plan concentrated on building mainly streets in the town. There were no future alternatives, or building "codes or regulations" for construction. As I speak to you random construction without ecological and malaria control considerations continued. As it has been in the past, ecological and malaria control concerns for the town areas were given limited attention by the government. What makes Liberia's situation different from other nations is that the others left room for future plans or improvements, but Liberia didn’t and hasn’t. Construction in the other countries met specific building code requirements that somewhat and left some room for future development.
Malaria, with a life stage dependent on water surface, is an important vector bringing diseases (malaria, lymphatic filariasis, dengue fever) and misery to much of our people. The list could go on, but the point is clear--- malaria diminishes the prestige, health, economic and future of our nation. Therefore, while we fight malaria, we must now plan our new capital city not surrounded by water because it will improve malaria control. Think on these things.
May the God of our parentage’s hand bless our work! Amen
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: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org