Malaria is posing the most significant threat to the health of the population in Uganda. The disease accounts for the highest mortality rate in children under five years and for the majority of miscarriages and maternal deaths. It also contributes the biggest share of disease burden with over 50% outpatient visits in hospitals and 35% in-patient admissions. It is responsible for over 14% in-patient deaths. In Children, malaria causes childhood anemia, stunting and mental retardation. In pregnant women, malaria results in maternal anemia, intra-uterine growth retardation, premature births, low weight babies, still births and over 60% abortions/miscarriages.
Malaria not only causes illness and death, but it also has a great impact on the economic development of individuals, families and communities. Children get an average of 6 episodes of malaria every year, while pregnant women are 4 times as likely to suffer malaria attacks during pregnancy. Direct costs in form of treatment and funeral expenses are thus very high. There is also interference with work and farm production causing poverty, since the disease carrying vectors are commonest during the rainy season. It is estimated that workers suffering from malaria bouts get incapacitated for 5-20 days.
A study in Apac, Kampala and Rukungiri Districts shows that malaria is responsible for 54%, 33% and 50% respectively of absenteeism from work per month in the above districts. On the average, 7 working days (range 4-9 days) are lost per malaria episode. Household surveys in Kabarole and Bundibugyo Districts show that the direct cost of treatment for an episode of suspected malaria averages 30,000 Ug. Shs. (20 US$) in urban settings and 5,000 Ug. Shs. (3.80 US$) in rural populations. This does not include other expenses incurred, such as: transport expenses while seeking treatment, treatment of adults and children over 5 years old, treatment of adults and children admitted in health facilities, drug resistance and failures hence expensive alternative drugs, funeral expenses for children and adults who die and Aerosol sprays, mosquito coils, mosquito nets and other mosquito control expenses.
In industry and agricultural enterprises like tea, sugarcane, coffee, rice, tobacco estates, malaria accounts for the greatest number of man-hours lost. This dearly affects production and revenue for the industry, families and the nation as well. Malaria is also burdening the health services. It is estimated that 40% of health facility expenditures in Uganda is spent on malaria treatment. It is also resulting to loss of investment funds thus affecting the economy.
The multi drug resistant malaria prevalent in many parts of Uganda has been made worse by poor stewardship of anti-malaria drugs hence the current annual estimated number of deaths from malaria is over 100,000. The disease is now resistant to drugs like Chloroquine and Fansidar. Coartem, which was recently introduced also, comes with side effects.
The government of Uganda, in its effort to rid the country of the disease decided to carry out DDT spraying in the country based on the fact that DDT is not only affordable to the country, but also effective in malaria control. The programme, which is being implemented under the Ministry of Health, started with DDT spraying in the districts of Apac and Oyam, with plans to extend to Lira and Dokolo districts. This action has set loose criticisms from eco-imperialists that have led to boycotting of Uganda’s farm produce.
Over 11,000 farmers in Apac and Oyam districts are currently stuck with tones of cotton after the buyer rejected it due to DDT spraying in the area. According to Marck Van Esch, the Managing Director of Bo Weevil, the company that has been buying the cotton, the affected farmers are from areas sprayed with DDT. "DDT is a problem in any food commodity to the Western world. There is a zero tolerance there for DDT products," said Van Esch, whose company also promotes and certifies organic products. He also threatened to close down the companies operations in the districts of Lira and Dokolo, should government continue spraying DDT in the districts.
EUREP-GAP, an EU exporter’s body, has also suspended buying products from the region because the “consumers in Europe and America want purely organic products. The moves clearly reveal that even amidst all its supposed support in the control of malaria, the west is actually being two-faced in as far as DDT use is concerned.
Investors and mainstream environmental organizations in the West place more value on animal and plant life than human lives in Africa as far as malaria is concerned. This should be a wake up call for African nations to brace themselves to stand ground in the fight against malaria. Why should western Investors decampaign the use of DDT even in the face of millions of deaths resulting from malaria? In any case, they used the same insecticide to fight malaria many years ago. Should thousands of Ugandans die just to satisfy unrealistic demands from Western investors? Besides, the insecticide is used in small quantities indoors but not on the environment or crops for that matter.
Uganda does not need investors who are only interested in what they can get out of this country. Already, media reports indicate that the spraying has affected the prices. The price of cotton now stands at 500 per kilogramme instead of UGSh 750, but then again, is there documented evidence that these investors have dealt a fatal blow to the problem of poverty in the affected areas? Why should we engage “Development Partners”, who do not uphold the value of human life or even comprehend the effect of malaria on production of organic products, which they claim to be promoting? Is it logical to promote a product at the expense of the life of the producer? Who gets to produce the product then?
It is time Ugandans placed their money on the right spot. The move by private companies like former Nytill to add value to locally produced cotton is commendable. It remains for Ugandans to start valuing local products. In any case, our local products are of good quality compared to cheap products dumped in the country. It’s truly important for the world to understand that we produce excellent products that we can consume. We have a huge population that can serve as a big market to our products. At least, we will not have to deal with western hypocrisy year in year out.