Economic downturn – is anyone bailing out the people who suffer from malaria?

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and special adviser to the U.N. Secretary General, was reported by the Seattle Times as expressing concern that, “While U.S. bailout funds will help pay $18 billion in holiday bonuses for Wall Street executives, the U.S. has broken its promise to fund a global health program that saves millions of lives.” He rightly believes that such monies would be a better investment in addressing the $5 billion funding gap faced by the Global Fund.

Peter Chernin, president of News Corp. and chairman of Malaria No More added his voice in the Seattle Times report: “Malaria control is an example of a good return on investment, Chernin said.Programs are showing real results such as a 66 percent drop in malaria-related deaths in Rwanda in one year following increased use of bednets to prevent bites and treatment with effective medicine.”

According to the Seattle Times, “Chernin will join with Exxon Mobil and Standard Charter Bank to launch a campaign to raise $100 million from private companies, primarily for malaria programs funded through the Global Fund. The campaign will also ask companies to provide technical and business assistance, such as logistics for bed net delivery and marketing efforts to increase the use of bed nets.” These corporate interventions are crucial but do not absolve rich countries of the need to support the Global Fund and similar efforts.

An EU Parliamentary monitor observes that, “The decision (to cut Global Fund support), announced on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, was criticised by Van Lancker, a member of parliament.” The Parliamentarian complained that, “… potentially lifesaving treatment for people suffering from these and other diseases is now being jeopardised by this cut in funding.  Basically, donor governments and other bodies are not living up to the commitment they set back in 2001 when the (Global) fund was launched.”

These are surely frustrating times compared to the Davos of 2005 where celebrities, NGOs and industry leaders made a pledge to fight malaria.  Then as now there was recognition of the economic benefits of investment in malaria control. All partners – government and private – need to reaffirm their commitment to Roll Back Malaria and Millennium Development Goals and make that investment a reality.

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