Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 9 News List

A little aid goes a long way

Malaria may not be as spectacular as a tsunami, but its death toll is far more dramatic -- and it can be controlled with just a little more cooperation

By Jeffrey Sachs

ILLUSTRATION: YUSHA

The outpouring of aid in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami brought hope to a troubled world. In the face of an immense tragedy, working-class families around the world opened their wallets to the disaster's victims. Former US president Bill Clinton called this response a "democratization of development assistance," in which individuals lend their help not only through their governments but also through their own efforts.

But, while more than 200,000 people perished in the tsunami disaster, an equivalent number of children die each month of malaria in Africa, a disaster I call a "silent tsunami." Africa's silent tsunami of malaria, however, is actually largely avoidable and controllable.

Malaria can be prevented to a significant extent, and can be treated with nearly 100 percent success, through available low-cost technologies. Yet malaria's African victims, as well as those in other parts of the world, are typically too poor to have access to these life-saving technologies. A global effort, similar to the response to the Asian tsunami, could change this disastrous situation, saving more than 1 million lives per year.

Herein lies the main message of the new report of the UN Millennium Project, which was delivered last month to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The project, which I direct on behalf of the secretary-general, represents an effort by more than 250 scientists and development experts to identify practical means to achieve the Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty, disease and hunger by 2015. Our new report, entitled Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, shows that these goals can be achieved.

The key to meeting these goals in poor countries is an increase in investment in people (health, education, nutrition and family planning), the environment (water and sanitation, soils, forests and biodiversity) and infrastructure (roads, power and ports). Poor countries cannot afford these investments on their own, so rich countries must help.

If more financial aid is combined with good governance in poor countries, then these goals can be achieved on time. In short, our new report is a call to action. Rich countries and poor countries need to join forces to cut poverty, disease and hunger.

The reason that these goals are feasible is that powerful existing technologies give us the tools to make rapid advances in the quality of life and economic productivity of the world's poor. Illness and deaths from malaria can be reduced sharply by using insecticide-treated bed nets to stop the mosquitoes that transmit malaria, and by effective medicines when the illness strikes. The total cost of battling malaria in Africa would be around US$2 billion to US$3 billion per year.

With around 1 billion people living in high-income countries, it would thus cost just US$2 to US$3 per person per year in the developed world to fund an effort that could save more than 1 million children annually. When child mortality is reduced, poor families choose to have fewer children, because they are more confident that their children will survive to adulthood. Thus, paradoxically, saving children's lives is part of the solution to rapid population growth in poor countries.

Malaria is an important example where specific investment can solve the problems of disease, hunger and extreme poverty. Our report makes dozens of such practical recommendations.

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