Liberia’s Malaria control “hero,” Dr. Joel Jaryenneh Jones, lost his earthly battle to the cold hands of death a few weeks ago. He was born November 17, 1966.
Until his passing, the public was mostly unaware of his human relations and work ethics exhibited at the Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Control Program.
However, at the celebration of his home-going held at Salem Baptist Church in Parker Corner, Brewerville, mourners, sympathizers and well-wishers gathered to pay homage to the life of one of Liberia’s true “heroes.” They told of his ingenuity in bringing public attention to the heavy toll of malaria on the Liberian population during the 13 years that he worked at the Ministry of Health until his death.
It was ironical that Dr. Jones, affectionately known to some of his colleagues as ‘Dr. JJ’, was laid to rest Saturday, April 25, on World Malaria Day. But this editorial is not about his funeral; it is about how he transformed and resurrected a forgotten department within the Health Ministry — the Malaria Control Department.
Malaria, a parasitic disease, is endemic to our nation and our sub-region. We know from our history how malaria nearly succeeded in wiping out the settlers — those of our founding fathers who came from across the Atlantic, as well as their indigenous brothers and sisters whom they met here. It would take more than a century before the cure to malaria would be discovered. From that time to the present, malaria has been a silent killer. And even now, while many drugs have been produced to fight this killer disease, it has been discovered that the mosquitoes have found new ways to combat—and frustrate—many of these drugs and their inventors.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says malaria remains the leading cause of morbidity (illness) and mortality (death) in Liberia, with 38 percent of outpatient attendance and 42 percent of inpatient deaths attributable to the sickness.
However, WHO also says malaria prevalence in children under five years has been significantly reduced from 66 percent to 32 percent since 2005.
In 2010, out of a total curative consultation of over three million, malaria contributed 1.2 million cases. It also accounted for more than 40 percent of total outpatient consultations, which is an increase from 38 percent in 2009.
A total of 1.2 million cases of malaria were diagnosed in 2010, with children under 5 representing over 38 percent of cases; children five and above accounting for 55 percent, and pregnant women accounting for 6.4 percent.
Upon assuming the post of Director of the NMCP, Dr. Jones was the first to draw the world’s attention to Liberia through the Global Fund for Malaria, according to Deputy Health Minister Yah Zolia.
“When we heard that people were applying for money from the Global Fund, we did not know how to begin the process, but due to Dr. Jones’ persistent encouragement, we received the first grant from Global Fund,” Mrs. Zolia recalled. The first grant was US$12 million and the issue of tackling malaria began to take center stage in Liberia’s healthcare delivery system. She stated that Dr. Jones made all of his subordinates build self-confidence by allowing them to do their assignments independently. “This helped us to grow. He never was too big a boss to say, I am sorry. He was very friendly.”
Others who spoke at the funeral, including Dr. Jones’ former classmates at Cuttington University (formerly Cuttington University College), said he fought hard to put an end to malaria deaths in Liberia. “He’s regarded as Liberia’s malaria hero,” they said.
The University of Liberia also acknowledged that though his life was relatively brief, it was very rewarding to many.”
This is a legacy worth emulating by others at the MOH’s National Malaria Control Program.
We pray that the life and contribution of Dr. Joel Jones and what he and his coworkers at MOH were able to accomplish through the Global Fund will inspire all young Liberians to take their studies and work seriously.
We never know how far our commitment, hard work and encouragement of others will take us—and our country and people.