Dispatches from the Gold Coast: University of Accra

March 12, 2012 By Mark Green

Whenever I fly to Africa, it’s an overnight flight. It reminds me of the overnight trains one would take from a capitol into Africa’s interior in the “days of yore.”  For my wife, Sue, and I, it was the train in from Nairobi, and we would magically wake up in Kisumu where we were teachers.  Now one is awakened by the flight attendant for a quick breakfast before landing.  Years ago, the sunrise brought the outskirts of town and smoke rising from cooking fires.  Now it’s the clouds with just enough of a hazy brown tinge to tell you that you’re over Africa.


Amb. Mark Green discusses Ghana's development with Millennium Challenge Corporation official

A little more background on Ghana:  Last week, the country celebrated its 55th anniversary of independence from Great Britain—the first sub-Saharan country to do so.  John Atta Mills is Ghana’s president, and the country has a unicameral legislature (something that at times is tempting to us in America—of course, as a veteran of the House of Representatives, I have my bias).

Observers see Ghana as a hopeful place. Nearly 29% of the population is under the poverty rate, yet it is officially the fastest growing economy in the world. It has the 32nd highest AIDS prevalence, and malaria, prevalent throughout the country, is responsible for more than one-fifth of deaths under the age of five.  On the other hand, between 2006 and 2008, child mortality from all causes dropped sharply from 111 per 1000 live births to 80.

Challenges and hopefulness.

It’s always good to have someone meeting you in a foreign airport. David Bowen, CEO of Malaria No More (a USGLC member) and I were glad to climb in an air conditioned car as we left the terminal and drove through the traffic jams of the bustling West African city.

After checking in and cooling off in our hotel, we travelled to a remarkable malaria/tropical disease research facility right near the University of Accra. Run by Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen, it engages in what it calls “passioneering” research.  Its current thrust is research around strains of mosquitoes that are growing resistant to the latest insecticide treated bed nets.

In several carefully secured and climate controlled rooms, the scientists are studying 3 types of resistance strains. One, interestingly enough, is the “Kisumu” strain named for the area where the mosquitoes come from in Kenya. This is particularly interesting to me because Sue and I lived just north of Kisumu when we each contracted malaria in the late 80s.


Vestergaard Frandsen's cold storage facility at the University of Accra

Why is the facility here?  Because Vestergaard wanted to research African malaria on the African continent.  They had originally chosen the Ivory Coast, but instability there caused them to look elsewhere.  And according to a Vestergaard representative, Ghana has grown increasingly small business-friendly in its regulations and start up costs. One of the most gratifying aspects of the center is that it employs, trains and develops African researchers and technicians.  Not only will we learn more about malaria, but this will help build the next generation of African scientists and educators.

The center isn’t just studying mosquitoes and various ways of defeating them, but also researching ticks and flies known to carry dangerous diseases.

Tomorrow Fox News’ Martha MacCallum and President’s Malaria Initiative leader Admiral Tim Ziemer join us.

More to come . . .