Malaria? Don’t we already know how to get rid of that? Yes: that’s what makes this such a travesty.
Malaria still afflicts 3 million Africans a year, and of particular importance, it destroys economic productivity because it causes so much loss of work and human capital development. The disease kills an African child every 30 seconds. Malaria eradication is a crucial element of the United Nations Millenium Development Goals for precisely this reason: you simply can’t make a dent in extreme poverty without making a very big dent in malaria. As the Earth Institute explains:
Malaria and poverty are intimately connected. Judged as both a root cause and a consequence of poverty, malaria is most intractable for the poorest countries in the world. Malaria affects the health and economic growth of nations and individuals alike and is costing Africa about $12 billion a year in economic output.
Annual economic growth in countries with high malaria transmission has historically been lower than in countries without malaria. Almost all the rich countries are outside the bounds of intensive malaria (check maps above). Studies show that malaria endemic countries in Africa have growth rates of up to 1.3% less than other countries that are not malaria endemic. For many countries in Africa this means negative growth rates.
Everyone knows about AIDS, but we have really overlooked malaria in the process.
But here’s the good news: this is easy to do. It doesn’t require huge investments in complex antiretrovirals, controversies over sexual abstinence, negotiations with drug companies, etc. It’s just sitting there.
The technology is relatively simple: insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, better insulated door and windows, and anti-malarial drugs (which are quite inexpensive). As Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Columbia University Earth Institute demonstrate in a (relatively) recent paper, this would cost about $3 billion a year–0.3% of the projected stimulus package.
All of the bednets, insecticides, drugs and home fixtures could be manufactured in the United States, and could be done pretty quickly, making it a perfect candidate for the stimulus.
Note how this hits both domestic and foreign policy: it might be a nice opening move for an Obama Administration. Perhaps start the program in Kenya?
And of course if malaria eradication is successful, then Africa will achieve more sustainable economic growth, fulfilling the promise of the stimulus anyway.
Not all of the $3 billion would be in US products, but perhaps hiring a lot of idealistic and talented young Americans to train a new generation of African community health workers and administer diagnostic tests would also be an effective sort of jobs program. Very New Frontier, Peace Corps-like. I can imagine a potential incoming US Senator who should be interested in sponsoring such an initiative.