In 2004, Yvonne Chaka Chaka travelled to Gabon with her band. When they returned to South Africa, band member Phumzile Ntuli was feeling ill. No one knew that she had contracted malaria while on tour. Tragically Phumzile soon fell into a coma and succumbed to malaria on June 23rd 2004. The following eulogy from Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a moving tribute to Phumzile's life and a call to action to fight malaria.
"Phumzile was a wonderful, fun-loving, warm, caring human being who worked hard to make a success of her life. She was born in a local township near Durban where she struggled through poverty to study music and raise her family.
Phumzile Ntuli's life was cut short when she still had so much more to give. A victim of an ongoing war that she was blissfully unaware of until that fateful trip with me to Gabon to perform at a local festival.
Malaria robbed South Africa of a wonderful musician, it robbed her son Menzi of his mother, her family of their daughter and me of a friend I valued and trusted.
But the real tragedy here is that her death was avoidable. She did not have to die because malaria is preventable, treatable and curable. Imagine my shock!
It’s hard not to ask why??
If only she had slept under a mosquito net…
If only she had been diagnosed early and accurately…
If only she had received the life saving drugs widely available for only a few dollars…
If only I knew then what I know now…
If only….maybe this tragedy could have been avoided.
Imagine my shock to find her death was not an isolated tragedy. Imagine my shock to find that millions suffer from malaria each year and more than a million die.
How can it be that such a great catastrophe is so unknown, so silent!
It claims the lives of children under 5, pregnant women and HIV+ people - more than 3000 or the equivalent of 7 jumbo jets full of women and children each day. Victims of poverty, desperate to find the money to fight this epidemic, to survive, to beat the fever.
Phumzile’s death was not and is not the only tragedy.
It is two years since her death and I find there are glimmers of hope; the present situation is not so gloomy. As I have travelled across Africa as a performer, as an advocate for malaria, as a partner of Roll Back Malaria and as the UNICEF Regional Spokesperson on Malaria, I have discovered pockets of hope.
Hope provided by Roll Back Malaria Partners. Drug policies changed in Burundi and Zanzibar and effective life saving drugs freely available - made possible by money from the Global Fund. Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets given free of cost to children under 5 in Niger and more to come in Kenya, Angola, Rwanda, and Ethiopia - to name a few.
Indoor Residual Spraying in Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa that has reduced the rates of malaria in the region.
But for many across Africa, it’s already too late. For despite these successes there are clouds on the horizon. If the poor of this world are to have any chance against this terrible disease we need to scale up our efforts so that these pockets of success are spread across the malaria endemic world. However, it will be impossible to massively scale up these successful and proven interventions without new pledges of funding. We need the global funds that can provide predictable sustainable funding in order to build the capacity of health systems.
In remembrance of Phumzile I am urging the leaders of Africa and the world’s malaria endemic countries to wage war against this silent killer, to provide leadership and resources from their national budgets.
And to the world’s wealthy nations, in particular the G8, I call on you to show bold vision by providing the necessary money so that our children do not continue to die needlessly. So that our women can live to be good mothers, so that the tragedy of Phumzile is not repeated day after day, year after year.
There is potential for great progress. The seeds of success have been sown but they need to be nurtured by the donors, by the governments of the recipient countries, by the private sector, by all civil society. We are at a point in history where we can make a huge difference. Do not shy away.
For the poor of this world it is their only hope."