Thursday, March 10, 2005

Pandemics Other Than AIDS (And More Easily Stopped)

I read an article in the Economist years ago about how much damage Malaria was doing to Africa's development and economy. The Independent has a tough story about it now. The past estimates of how many suffered from Malaria were dead wrong, according to a new study. Dire statistics: 515 million suffer from the disease, 1 million a year die from the disease, 2.2. billion people worldwide are at risk of the disease, and 12 billion dollars a year in estimated loss to the economies of Africa from the disease. Why has such a travesty gone unnoticed and a disease we have treatments for gone unfunded? Indy sums it up well:

"Malaria has never captured the public imagination as Aids has done, even though children are its chief victims. Malaria is old and Aids is new. Most important, malaria is not a disease that affects the West - except for those fortunate enough to holiday in the tropics - whereas Aids threatens us all. The scale on which the parasite, transmitted by the mosquito, kills is breathtaking. A new malaria map of the world suggests that the incidence of malaria in Africa is some 50 per cent higher than previous estimates by the World Health Organisation and up to 200 per cent higher for areas outside Africa, such as in south-east Asia."

(snip)

"Economists for the United Nations have identified malaria as one of the top four causes of poverty with many African governments spending up to 40 per cent of their total health budgets on the medical care or control of malaria."

The leader of the study states that their estimates were "conservative" too. Again, our battles against disease pale with any glance at the developing world. They also highlight the importance in the development of health care infrastructure as any part of economic development. The most basic sanitation, medicines, and anti-mosquito measures could dramatically reduce malaria, but this escapes the tunnel-vision of economic development dogma that only recently began to acknowledge the threat of AIDS and how treatment of that is also tied to development. It's true that the world has generally started to wake up to this issues, especially with the Copenhagen Consensus' more pragmatic and less ideological approach. The value in fighting malaria is obvious, though, and it is one of those cases where if advanced countries really put some effort, not even on the scale of the current AIDS efforts, significant humanitarian good and development wonder could result.