July 14, 2009

Obama commends Nigeria’s interfaith efforts against malaria

By Sola Ogundipe
EVEN though Nigeria was not listed as one of the countries to be visited  by President Barack Obama on his maiden trip to Africa last weekend, the American leader nevertheless found it expedient to  single out for special mention, Nigeria’s path-breaking interfaith initiative to defeat malaria.

An extract of Obama’s speech  presented to  the  Ghanaian Parliament during the historic visit, shows that    the commendation  was aimed at further enabling the effective tackling of the menace of malaria through utilisation of faith-based groups to encourage use of bednets and effective treatments.

Jay Winsten, Associate Dean, Harvard School of Public Health and Senior Communications Consultant to Ray Chambers, the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Malaria,  told Good Health Weekly that  the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association (NIFAA), has been at the forefront of  uniting Christian and Muslim leaders and other faithfuls across the country in a new drive to end malaria.

The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty is working to spread this interfaith partnership with national governments across Africa to help end malaria and meet the 2010, target of covering every person in malaria-endemic Africa with a life-saving bed net. It is hoped that by 2015, there would be no more deaths from malaria in the continent.

Winsten said NIFAA will be represented at the Zumunta Association USA’s annual conference  in Newark, New Jersey on July 24-25, by Joint co-chairs of the Association, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Saad Abubakar III, and Aarchbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, Archbishop  John Onaiyekan,  who is also President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

First Lady, Hajia Turai Yar’Adua as well as the United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria,  Ray Chambers and by  many other dignitaries are also expected at the special event with the theme “Preventing HIV/AIDS and malaria in Northern States of Nigeria.

Officially presented to the United Nations during the “One World Malaria Summit” held in Washington, on April 24, 2009, NIFAA, initially focusing on malaria, is coordinating  efforts of congregations to increase the distribution and utilisation of insecticide treated bednets, anti-malarial treatments and other interventions across Nigeria in partnership with the Nigerian National Malaria Control Programme.

In his presentation, Obama said while in parts of Africa, far more people are living productively with HIV/AIDS, and getting the drugs they need,  too many still die from diseases that shouldn’t kill them. “When children are being killed because of a mosquito bite, and mothers are dying in childbirth, then we know that more progress must be made. Yet because of incentives — often provided by donor nations — many African doctors and nurses go overseas, or work for programmes that focus on a single disease.”

Lamenting the gaps in primary care and basic prevention, he said individual Africans also have to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, while promoting public health in their communities and countries.

“Across Africa, we  see examples of people tackling these problems. In Nigeria, an interfaith effort of Christians and Muslims has set an example of cooperation to confront malaria. Here in Ghana and across Africa, we see innovative ideas for filling gaps in care.

“America will support these efforts through a comprehensive, global health strategy, because in the 21st century, we are called to act by our conscience but also by our common interest, because when a child dies of a preventable disease in Accra, that diminishes us everywhere.

“And that’s why my administration has committed $63 billion to meet these challenges — $63 billion. Building on the strong efforts of President Bush, we will carry forward the fight against HIV/AIDS. We will pursue the goal of ending deaths from malaria and tuberculosis, and we will work to eradicate polio.

“We will fight — we will fight neglected tropical disease. And we won’t confront illnesses in isolation — we will invest in public health systems that promote wellness and focus on the health of mothers and children.”