We could one day look back at this malaria vaccine breakthrough and realise that it was the best thing to happen to Africa in a long time, says the writer. File picture: Felipe Dana/AP
Many South African business leaders say that among the top reasons they do not travel to other African countries is malaria, writes Victor Kgomoeswana.

We could one day look back at this malaria vaccine breakthrough and realise that it was the best thing to happen to Africa in a long time. 

The announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Malaria Day that tests on an injectable vaccine called RTS,S (or commonly Mosquirix), would be conducted in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi could herald victory over an ailment that still kills close to 500 000 people, mainly Africans, annually.

The tests follow the recommendation in October 2015 by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (Sage), and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC), that the pilot be implemented in Africa.

The test will reportedly be conducted on babies and toddlers between the ages of 5 and 17 months. Mosquirix was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and funded by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Part of me celebrates this, while the other half bemoans being at the centre of world efforts to save "those dying Africans" from a killer disease, yet again.

But, the death of nearly half a million people a year leaves no room for sentimentality and foolish pride. Africa needs this, urgently, and must embrace it wholeheartedly.

This assumes the requisite vigilance will be exercised by the health authorities in the targeted countries.

Although health is a cardinal element of the human development index, this is not a health story, but an economic and a human story. Africa’s bid for economic self-reliance stands to benefit.

Afro-optimists perennially wish that African countries would do more trade with each other, replacing aid. Aid, as we know, brings humiliating conditions along.

Currently, UN’s African Renewal online magazine estimates intra-Africa trade at "10 to 12% of Africa’s total trade; comparable figures are 40% in North America and roughly 60% in western Europe".

More than 80% of our exports, continues the African Renewal report, are "shipped overseas, mainly to the EU, China and the US".

It is an old refrain, but worth repeating: these exports are cheap raw materials and natural resources, which return to us as expensive gadgets and other finished products.

It is vital to stress that intra-Africa trade is not as low as it is solely because of poor interaction among Africans.

It is mainly the result of anti-African trade policies by African countries, poor infrastructure and high costs of exports and imports. Still, unless Africans start interacting with each other, by visiting different countries, it is unrealistic to expect trade to flourish.

South Africa is still home to 40 400 dollar millionaires, more than twice the 18 100, 12 300 and 94 00 found in Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, according to the Africa Wealth Report.

The increase in the number of millionaires between 2006 and last year, however, is elsewhere on the continent, hence the need to travel across Africa.

They are in Mauritius (230% growth in number), Ethiopia (219%), Rwanda (107%), Uganda (97%) and Kenya (93%). To facilitate trade, these millionaires must travel to the respective countries of their counterparts.

Many South African business leaders have told me that among the top reasons they do not travel to other African countries is malaria.

Tourism arrivals in Africa and Asia and the Pacific rose 8% last year, the year in which international tourism remained robust according to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer.

That is way above the global average growth rate of 3.9%.

These two regions feature the highest malaria risk, as mapped out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though Africa by far outstrips Asia-Pacific.

Defeating malaria at least removes one of the barriers of travel.

Travel will be less risky. So, apart from saving the lives of Africans from all over the continent annually, the likely increase in travel between the different African countries will reduce the cultural distance between Africans.

Provided the infrastructure and intra-Africa trade policies are up to scratch - this will certainly boost intra-Africa trade.

* Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent @VictorAfrica

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent