“extortion, theft of public funds or other corrupt conduct …”

… can buy a $35 million estate in Malibu, California, a fleet of luxury cars, speedboats and a private jet, according to the New York Times. What does it buy for the poor, malaria stricken people of Equatorial Guinea?

“… despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas,” The Times reports that the owner of this California wealth, Teodoro Nguema Obiang, the Forest and Agriculture Minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, is allowed to enter the US freely.

In the malaria world, Equatorial Guinea has been recently help up as an example of progress along the pathway to malaria elimination. On the third day of the recently concluded MIM 5th Pan-African Malaria Conference Equatorial Guinea, or more specifically its better endowed island half, Bioku featured as a case study in the plenary session.  According to TropIKA’s daily conference summary

Bioko, off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, was the next case example, another “island laboratory” with important lessons for the mainland. Dr Immo Kleinschmidt discussed the first 5-year phase of the island’s malaria control project. There has been huge success in some places, he said, but others continue to struggle, and though Bioko is on the road to elimination, “it’s not going to be easy.”

Several other presentations featured the Bioku experience.These come on the heels of recently published articles in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene detailing results that “provide encouragement that the additional resources for combining IRS and LLIN are justified,” and that “Effective malaria control measures can dramatically increase child survival and play a key role in achieving millennium development goals.”

An accompanying editorial in AJTMH makes more clear than the articles that possible funding for the interventions studied may have come from Marathon Oil’s 2003 infusion of US$ 15.8 million to reduce malaria transmission on Bioko Island and possibly more recent Global Fund support to sustain intervention.

While government is said to be a partner in such enterprises, it would appear from the New York Times article that corrupt government officials alone could have eliminated malaria long ago on both Bioku and the mainland with money to spare for other African countries that lack the ability to siphon off oil profits for personal use.

The AJTMH editorial asks, as it must, whether the reported gains can be sustained.  Global Funds may or may not continue, but the writer hopes that corporate responsibility and its philanthropy will continue to maintain the scale-up of malaria interventions.  If those two sources fail, maybe the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture can sell his Malibu estate for the benefit of his country people.

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