Prince Ned Nwoko is a lawyer, politician and humanitarian. He is at present preoccupied with his pet project: malaria-free continent. In this interview with Isioma Madike, Nwoko spoke about his excitement over the newly approved malaria vaccine by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and his Malaria Eradication Project’s journey thus far. Excerpts…
Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation has been in the forefront of the malaria eradication project, what inspired this thinking?
The disposition of Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation (PNNF) in caring for humanity propelled us two years ago to pick up the gauntlet and confront one of Africa’s and humanity’s biggest health and socio-economic challenges-malaria.
On December 18, 2019 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, we formally unveiled the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation Malaria Eradication in Africa Project (PNNF-MEAP) with the aim of working and collaborating with appropriate multilateral agencies, organisations, companies, governments and individuals to achieve a malaria-free Nigeria and Africa by extension in less than a decade.
We were and remain particularly concerned that Africa with the largest population of poor people in the world is the most affected continent by malaria coupled with the fact that Nigeria is the worst affected country in the world.
Why Africa, are there no other continents where malaria is an issue?
Statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that in 2019, the African region accounted f o r 94 per cent of all malaria cases and deaths worldwide. During the period, six African countries accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths globally.
These are Nigeria (24%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), United Republic of Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4%).
The 2019 World Malaria Report rates Nigeria as the country with the highest number of annual global malaria cases (25 % of 229 m i l l i o n world malaria cases). Nigeria also accounted for the highest number of deaths (24 %) of 409,000 worldwide yearly malaria deaths.
Africa’s most populous country had indeed occupied that unenviable position for several successive decades and malaria is transmitted all over the country while over 70 per cent of her population resides in high transmission areas.
Which area would you say the malaria eradication project’s cardinal delivery plans cover?
Global direct costs of malaria annually through illness, treatment, premature deaths etc have been estimated to be far above US$10 billion while the cost in lost economic growth is several fold more.
In the malaria eradication project, our Foundation’s cardinal delivery plans cover supporting or investing in development of anti-malaria vaccine, environmental sanitation, Indoor Residual Spray and Fumigation. Any result thus far? We are delighted that the Foundation’s Malaria Eradication Project has yielded yet another desired dividend with the recent approval of RTSS malaria vaccine implementation in endemic countries by the WHO.
We are equally happy with the approval by the Honourable Minister of Health of the vaccine’s implementation in Nigeria, based on the submission of the proposal by the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation’s Malaria Eradication in Africa Project (PNNF MEAP).
It is noteworthy that PNNF MEAP pioneered the campaign for eradication of malaria in Africa. The United Nations (UN) and the WHO, having noticed the Foundation’s determination, agreed to collaborate with us in the quest to eradicate malaria from Nigeria and Africa.
The approach to the vaccine breakthrough was facilitated via deliberate actions, engagements and collaboration by the PNNF.
On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, the PNNF formally began the bold journey towards a malaria-free Nigeria and Africa when I addressed a world press conference in Abuja to unveil the malaria eradication in Africa project.
What followed after that?
That was followed with my strategic expedition to the world’s coldest continent, Antarctica and the South Pole between 8th and 15th January 2020. By that expedition, I made history by becoming the first black African to reach the South Pole in Antarctica and hoisted the Nigerian flag there, calling for malaria eradication in Africa.
During the expedition, I also held valuable discussion with a group of scientists in the Antarctic Research Based Stations on the quest to fumigate Africa and develop a reliable malaria vaccine.
I also used the advantageous position of the ice-filled continent to draw the attention of the world and the UN to the challenge posed by malaria and the need to permanently rid Africa of the deadly disease.
Interestingly, Antarctica is totally free of mosquitoes and with my successful expedition to the White Desert, the journey towards a malaria-free Nigeria and Africa came into force.
Does it bother you that Nigeria wasn’t among African countries selected for the pilot trial of the malaria vaccine?
Yes, we are bothered. On February 25, 2020, we (PNNF) held a Roundtable discussion with some Nigerian professors and experts that worked on the lot to lot trial of the RTSS Malaria Vaccine.
They include Prof. Steve Oguche, Prof. Tagbo Eguonu, Dr. Chioma Amajoh, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, Dr. Dapo Adeogun and Dr. Emmanuel Obi.
Also present at the meeting were Dr. Nnenna Ogbulafor, representing the National Malaria Elimination Programme, Ambassador Ozo Nwobu, and Dr. Okechukwu Udeh. Notable conclusions at the meeting include: Galvanizing plans to advocate for the implementation of the RTSS vaccine in Nigeria; establishing a proper malaria surveillance system and improving on effective data management.
In the course of the meeting, it came to the Foundation’s knowledge that only three African countries were selected for the pilot trial of the RTSS Malaria Vaccine namely Malawi, Kenya and Ghana.
The Foundation was dissatisfied that Nigeria, which bears the most burden of malaria in Africa, was not selected and immediately started consultations on how the RTSS vaccine could be deployed in Nigeria.
Also in February, 2020, we engaged a group of science professors in Delta State, Nigeria, to advise and facilitate the process of having a malaria research centre in Nigeria for vaccine development.
The group comprised Prof. Endurance Ophori, Prof. Godwin Avwioro, Prof. Nduka Uriah, Prof. Nosa Eghafona and Prof. Chris Osubor.
We officially presented the Malaria Project action plan to the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr. Osage Ehanire, on December 8, 2020, at the Federal Ministry of Health in Abuja, and called for the collaboration of the Ministry in the quest to eradicate malaria in Africa via sanitation, fumigation, waste management and vaccine development.
What further action did you take?
In furtherance of the efforts to bring RTSS malaria vaccine to Nigeria, we invited the RTSS Vaccine Experts and Malariologist and held a 2-day workshop between March 18 and 19, to develop a concept note and proposal to the Federal Ministry of Health for the Foundation to lead in the deployment of RTSS in Nigeria.
The following RTSS malaria vaccine partners were identified for consultation: GSK, WHO, PATH, GAVI, PMI/USAID, DFID/Malaria Consortium, Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Federal Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, NPHCDA, etc.
The attendees of the workshop included Prof. Steve Oguche, Prof. Tagbo Oguonu, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, Dr. Godwin Ntadom, Dr. Chioma Amajoh, Emmanuel Obi and Chukwuebuka Anyaduba, the National Coordinator for Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation Malaria Project.
At the end of the workshop, a committee was formed known as R-MAC (RTSS Malaria Vaccine Implementation Committee) to consist of all vaccine partners mentioned above. Recommendation was also reached with a timeline of activities.
What has been the result of the workshop?
On April 1, we submitted a proposal to the Honourable Minister of Health requesting the support of the Federal Ministry of Health on the proposed roll out of RTSS Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) in Nigeria by the Foundation.
On the occasion of the 2021 World Malaria Day on April 25, we also led a Malaria Awareness Walk with Malaria Partners and amongst the campaign messages was the need for the RTSS vaccine to be deployed in Nigeria having shown significant results in the pilot countries of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
On May 28, in my country home in Idumuje-Ugboko, Delta State, I hosted the United Nations Diplomatic team led by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon and the WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo.
The meeting discussed the imperative of collaboration between Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation and the WHO on malaria vaccine implementation, fumigation, sanitation, advocacy and environmental management.
And on July 27, the Honourable Minister of Health in a letter addressed to us (Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation), graciously approved our proposal to lead in the possible roll-out of the RTSS vaccine in Nigeria when recommended by the WHO.