The Jimmy Durante Stimulus: Let’s Eradicate Malaria

Want an easy, politically powerful, and incredibly effective stimulus initiative? How about eradicating malaria?

Now that, as the Schnozzola himself would say, everybody wants to get into the act, here’s a proposal for the stimulus that would have an enormous impact: fight malaria.

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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.