Malaria Tour – need to connect the development dots

US President Bush has arrived in Benin Republic on the first leg of his second Africa tour that will highlight achievements in various health and development programs including the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The Washington Times reported that, “In what some are calling a “victory lap,” Mr. Bush’s trip will highlight the effect over the past five years of the $1.2 billion the U.S. has sent to fight malaria and the $15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS, which the president wants to double over the next five years.”

There is hope that this trip will help guarantee continuity in US disease efforts after the current administration. The Washington Times reports further that, “The administration’s malaria program has distributed more than 6 million insecticide-treated bed nets. ‘We’ve literally wiped out malaria on the island of Zanzibar,’ Mr. Pittman the president’s senior director for African affairs) said, referring to the semi-autonomous archipelago off the coast of Tanzania.”

But are specific disease control efforts enough to eliminate malaria as a public health problem? We have argued here that there also needs to be attention to the underlying social and economic factors that make people more susceptible to malaria, and when these are not addressed and when donor programs wind down, malaria returns.

BBC News highlights such concerns. “However, international aid agencies have said US trade policy in Africa may undermine struggling African economies. Benin relies on cotton production, for instance – but cannot compete with US cotton because of the large subsidies paid to US farmers.” Unless we connect all parts of the development picture – disease control, trade, economic development, agriculture, etc. – malaria will remain a threat to world health and security.

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