Photo: A. Khoshnam
My uncle George was always good to me. He was a compact man of slight build with a calm voice that could rise to irresistible command in a heartbeat, much like my father's. Both he and my uncle Antwi looked like carbon copies of their little brother, the man who had ushered me into the world. When I debuted my first musical during my college study abroad semester in my homeland of Ghana, my uncle George led a contingent of family members on the two-hour bus trip from Accra to Cape Coast.
At the end of the show, he came up and embraced me. He looked me straight in the eye and told me how proud he was of me and that he believed I had a genuine gift and I would use it to bring honor to my family and to society.
Five years ago, Uncle George passed away. He had been struggling with a recurring bout of malaria, a disease that, contrary to popular understanding, is still the most devastating on the African continent. When I last saw him, he was a little grayer, a little slower, had lost some of the pep in his step. But when I boarded my flight back to the States, I had no idea I would not see my uncle again.
Malaria is not an incurable disease. I've had it three or four times in my life. It was endemic in the southeastern United States until the 1940s, when it was eradicated through the concerted efforts of state, local and federal officials.
The common misconception is that good medical care is not available in developing countries. That is, in fact, not the case. Good medical care is almost always available—but only for certain people. How often do you hear of foreign despots dying of curable disease? It is one of the greatest challenges of living in a so-called "Third World" nation that even when there is treatment available for an ailment, a person might not have access to it because they don't have the money or the right connections.
Imagine the sad state of affairs when people die in a country not for lack of the science to save them, but for lack of the will to do so if they are not in a position to pay.