“Why should a little insect which can only survive for only two weeks or at most six weeks remain such a nuisance to human beings?”
This is a question from the man on
a mission to kick out malaria from Africa.
Prof. Binka receiving the Ronald Ross medal
Perhaps this and many more such unanswered malaria questions may have agitated the mind of Professor Fred Binka of the School of Public Health, University of Ghana, Legon to follow the trail of malaria to search for difficult answers.
A few minutes chat with him will convince you that this is a man who knows what he is talking about.
“We have the tools to fight malaria and I see no reason why anyone should die of malaria. That is why every effort is being made to “paralyse” the mosquito in its bid to destroy human life”,
It was the wish of Prof. Binka's father that he should become a scientist. This explains why he was named Isaac Newton. So if names are anything to go by, then the name his father gave him has had an influence on him. “My father named me after a renowned scientist, Isaac Newton, but when I went to school my teacher said my name was too long and so he dropped the Isaac".
He admits that he was certainly not born great but has achieved greatness through hard work.
“We have been working tirelessly and have come this far so we should not leave things to chance. I never leave people without a lot of work to do” he said.The renowned researcher and medical doctor said Africa has a lot of challenges especially in the area of health, and solutions need to be found.
“Again there is now international recognition or a push for malaria eradication which is a big step forward and we need to take advantage of this to move forward” said the excited professor who won
this year's Ronald Ross medal for his work on Malaria.
Sharing his thoughts on the grand Ronald Ross medal of which he is the first recipient from the developing world, the malaria “prophet” explained that “for an institution such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to honour you it means your work has been recognised internationally”.
“Naturally, I'm very excited to be honoured by a prestigious institution such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with an award that is named after the father of malaria.”
What is it that drives Professor Binka? “The goals we have set ourselves define the amount of work to be done. The fact is that African or developing country scientists have a lot to offer. If one works on the international scene that person is not given that respect so I think when I get engaged in such activities I want to make sure that we do it even better than our colleagues in the north and so I wouldn't accept anything short of doing the best. There is nothing that is done that we cannot do better. We must be able to design our studies, publish them and be able to influence policy that will help our people”
Prof. Binka thinks the award puts one on the right direction and demands more from one. “You don't get an award and go to sleep so I am really encouraged that what I have been doing in the past has been recognised and that I have more to contribute. Now I think people will listen to me much more than they were in the past because they know the work I am doing in the area has been recognized”.
The Professor is concerned about malaria treatment in Africa and said the score card was not very good although some governments have stood out in malaria control. He mentions Rwanda, Eritrea, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya.
On the way forward in the fight against malaria, he said “The debate still rages on as to whether the parasite in man should be tackled first or anti-malaria drugs. The problem is like the chicken and egg situation.”
The Professor is a man of many parts. “I am a strong advocate of alternate source of energy so I develop my own solar and wind energy in my house. I am a strong Christian, and a Baptist. I like listening to music so I have my own small music studio in my house.” His favourite song is: “Ebenezer- hitherto has the Lord brought us.” He is a member of the Men's Fellowship and Sunday school which he describes as strong and popular. “Nobody wants to miss it,” he adds.
BELOW IS THE CITATION:
Fred Binka, Dean of the Ghana School of Public Heath has established himself as one of the leading health research scientists in Africa and is in great demand internationally as an advisor on a wide range of international health issues. Binka's reputation as an outstanding field trial investigator was established as head of field work for a large and complicated trial in Ghana showing that vitamin A supplementation reduced child mortality by 20%. This finding was highly influential on policy on vitamin A supplementation globally. The trial site, Navrongo, became a centre of excellence for demographic surveillance and Binka directed activities from 1992.
The Navrongo experience was pivotal in the setting up of INDEPTH a network of around 30 demographic surveillance sites in developing countries where Binka was the Executive Director for its first 10 years. This very successful Southern led network, under Binka's inspirational leadership, has carefully documented vital demographic rates across a spectrum of developing countries.
In Navrongo, Binka conducted one of the key trials showing that insecticide impregnated bed-nets reduced child mortality by 20%. This was one of a few trials that were key to the adoption of bed-net distribution as a major malaria control strategy. Binka was a founding member of the Mapping Malaria Risk in Africa network and played a central role in the establishment of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership. Working for WHO, he was in the core team that developed the vision for the Roll Back Malaria Programme.
More recently, he was the main force behind the setting up of a major network to strengthen the capacity of centres in Africa to conduct trials of malaria treatments and vaccines, and has championed the setting up of a major research programme to assess the effectiveness and safety of newly introduced anti-malarials. The award of the Ronald Ross Medal to Fred Binka in recognition of his distinguished and continuing contributions is richly merited.