His piece on the malaria scourge in Nigeria was aptly titled ‘Malaria Killing Nigeria’. I was very happy with the special attention Malam Bala gave to what he described as the ‘greatest murderer in history’ but was totally disappointed that the one thing I thought will be identified as the biggest culprit, and its containment as the very best remedy was not given even a passing mention.
I honestly did not expect to conclude reading that piece without a word about Nigeria’s appalling sanitation standards. We all know that the breeding grounds for mosquito, ‘the sole distributor of malaria, whole-saler and retail monger of Africa’s greatest malady’ are the gutters and rubbish heaps that so majestically adorn our cities, towns and to a small extent our villages. In fairness to Malam Bala, he actually sponsored a radio jingle on environmental sanitation, in his capacity as the Director-General of Kano societal re-orientation agency, A Daidaita Sahu. I heard the jingle on the radio when I went to visit my mother, an avid radio listener, in Kano. I always find myself sending a prayer that the people will heed the jingle. But always my prayer seems to remain unanswered.
What is most striking about the abundant dirt in our towns and cities is the fact that people have grown so used to them that they seem totally immune to their horrible sight, smell and the dangers they pose. I remember visiting the home of an acquaintance who wanted me to see how he has finally managed to liberate himself from the menace of shylock landlords by building his own modest abode. I went to see and congratulate him. But right in front of his main entrance was a gutter filled high with refuse. Needless to say, it eclipsed whatever I was getting set to admire in the house. So disturbed was I by what I saw, just before stepping into the house, that when the wife introduced their three teenage sons to me, I could barely suppress the urge to order them to do something about that gutter. How can a house with such abundant manpower find it hard to clear such an eyesore from their doorstep? The only explanation is that people no longer see dirt as an aberration.
So now Nigerians live comfortably in dirt. Suffering, smiling but providing the biggest consignment of food for evil genius mosquito. I was not surprised to see the Roll Back Malaria report quoted by Malam Bala saying that Malaria-related illnesses and mortality cost Africa 12 billion US dollars annually, but I was totally shocked to see what the programme’s best solution was. They call it vector control of malaria transmission through insecticide treated nets, ITN and indoor residual spraying, IRS. Why should we concentrate on treating the symptoms and not the cause? No amount of spraying and netting can make mosquito disappear, but take away his dirty castles and he’ll fail to ‘go forth and multiply’.
It is high time all individuals, organisations and institutions concerned with malaria know that they have been on the wrong track with regards to its eradication. If the MDG’s office is serious about cutting down malaria-related deaths by half in the year 2015, then the time to devise a new strategy is now. In association with other stakeholders like Roll Back Malaria and others, the MDG office must embark on a vigorous campaign on environmental sanitation. This campaign must show people the direct connection between the way they live and their health status. This stakeholders association must prevail on government to enforce sanitation exercises. People must be made to come out and clear the dirt in their environs as well as dispose of them properly. Failure to abide by such rules should attract immediate penalty of fine from offenders. We must return to the days of sanitary inspectors who will be allowed to go street by street and house to house inspecting sanitation conditions.
Just like the malaria spread, which Bala Muhammad humorously said had a federal character to it, our poor sanitation standard is also a national disgrace. Once, when we were discussing this at our features committee meeting, someone observed that poor sanitation is more of a northern problem, citing some northern cities where you wouldn’t want to take a foreign visitor. But someone more familiar with the south immediately mentioned a certain road linking a particular South-South city with its South-Eastern neighbour, saying that that whole road has a mountain of refuse beside it from its beginning to its end. Can you believe this? Imagine spending hours in a car and instead of the normal green and natural landscape, the only scenery is a mountain of refuse. Believe me whatever kind of malaria you seek; resistant, cerebral, recurrent etc, and you will certainly find it between these two cities.
When the RBM report said that 91% of all malaria deaths are in Africa and that no deaths on account of malaria occurs in Europe, we may want to blame their economic status and say they are rich enough to combat it while we are poor. I think the truth is they invest more in environmental hygiene than we do. Yes, wealth has a lot to do with how well our cities are planned and provided with covered drainages, but then so does political will. If our leader’s had the will we also have enough wealth to give ourselves good drainage systems and refuse disposal facilities, even if we can’t afford skyscrapers and Dubai-type malls.
And talking about Dubai, I remember running into a Pakistani man in Dubai four years ago. When he heard that my children and I were from Nigeria, he excitedly me that he had been to Nigeria, he told me how he lived in Nigeria a long time ago and how he went back again when he heard the good news that Sharia had been reintroduced in certain northern states. But, he said, he could not believe it when he saw the amount of dirt on the streets in those Sharia states. He had to conclude, he told me rather sadly that ‘Sharia cannot flourish in this dirt.’
So you see, the saying that cleanliness is next to godliness is not an idle saying after all. People do expect evidence of spiritual cleanliness to show in physical terms. One would expect for instance, a state with a well- constituted Hisba board like Kano to deploy them to take charge of sanitation. Side by side with destruction of liquor consignments, one would have liked to see them making refuse dumps disappear almost overnight, the same way they always appear. A good one to work on will be that heap by the exit gate of the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital. Isn’t it ironic to have an ugly refuse dump right by the gate of a teaching hospital? It is almost a mockery of what the institution stands for. One can almost imagine the refuse heap mocking the exiting patient in these words ‘You will surely be back. For as long as I am here, I will make sure you lack health and well being’.
In the final analysis, we must accept that combating malaria is not only about the DDTs the ITNs and the IRS. It is about chasing the chief source of the scourge which is mosquito. The only way we can do this is by destroying its home bases, its breeding ground. And one sure way of doing this is to keep our environments clean, build good drainages, practice good refuse disposal, enforce sanitation rules and we can go to bed and sleep soundly – even without NEPA.