A version of this article was first posted on the Red Party website at the end of 2004. In view of Bill Gates recent highly publicised donation for malaria research, I thought I'd give it another airing.
Poverty and inequality must be defeated wherever they are found.
In September 2000 the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals as a means and measure of fighting the inequalities in the world. Targets were set for poverty, primary education, gender equality, child survival, families and women, water and sanitation, and health.
The goal on health is to:
Combat HIV/AIDS,malaria and other diseases. Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
These targets are seriously off track. HIV prevalence is rising in many countries. While prevalence rates are highest in southern Africa, the rate of increase is sharpest in Europe and Central Asia, and absolute numbers are large in China and India.
Malaria is proving difficult to contain, and the global incidence of tuberculosis is also rising.
Each year we have a well publicised World AIDS Day. This is good, it reminds us all of the dangers and prevalence of HIV infection, and encourages research into vaccines, treatments and cures. However, the high profile that HIV/AIDS experiences is not the result of humanitarian concerns for the Third World, but is due to well known affluent westerners having been affected. It is an acute case of self interest. This does not in anyway help the poor though. The annual salary in Mozambique is $210, but the cost of generic antiretroviral therapy is $300.
It is a great shame that the same amount of attention is not also given to the woes of malaria. This disease warrants massive research initiatives to alleviate the suffering and deaths it causes. The problem is, though, that it is generally a disease of the poor. There would be little chance of a sound profitable return for pharmaceutical companies to 'justify' the vast finance required to pursue research into remedies.
Malaria is a parasitic infection characterised by cycles of chills, fever, sweating, anaemia, enlarged spleen and a chronic relapsing course. Four types of parasites affect man, through infection by the anopheles mosquito. Most malarious areas are in the tropics. Disasters, like floods and refugee encampments, are conducive to the propagation of the disease.
Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds and more than 1 million people annually in Africa. According to the 'Africa Malaria Report-2003', the disease continues to take its greatest toll on very young children, mostly under the age of five, and pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa. New analyses confirm that malaria is the principal cause of at least one fifth of all deaths of young children in the region.
In most countries chloroquine, the most commonly available anti-malarial drug, has lost its clinical effectiveness. In addition, resistance to sulfadoxine-purimethamine, the most common replacement drug, has emerged.
Insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) have proven to be highly effective in reducing mortality in young children. The use of these nets helps prevent the disease, which is particularly important due to the increase in drug-resistant falciparum malaria parasites. Recent charitable donors have insisted that these nets be sold at subsidised prices rather than given to the vulnerable population. The cost of purchase is prohibitive to the majority.
Western leaders say they have recognised the serious humanitarian problems in Africa, and have stated their intention to alleviate them. However, conditional aid will not be successful. Trade liberalisation and free market economies will not assist the poverty stricken and disease affected population. These ideologies will only aid the wealthy, who seek cheap sources of raw materials and labour, and new markets to exploit.
The peoples of the Sub-Saharan Region deserve our support. The following statistics illustrate their suffering.
43% of the population live on less than $1 a day.
31% of children under five years of age are underweight.
33% of the population have insufficient food to sustain life.
22% of 15-24 year olds are unemployed.
104 out every 1000 babies die.
174 out every 1000 under fives die.
920 out of every 100,000 mothers die in childbirth.
791 out every 100,000 children aged 0-4 years die from malaria. In Mali and Niger this figure rises to 2000.
The estimated annual cost of meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is $40-70 billion, World military spending for 2003 was $956 billion. We must all fight against the culture of 'profit before people', and ensure that social justice prevails wherever it is threatened.
However much Gates attempts to show the benevolence of his obscene wealth, he won't crack it. Any successful research will be expensive, and the results sold to the highest bidder - who of course will want a substantial return on their investment.