Almost every promise made by rich donors to stop the rampant devastation malaria is causing in Africa has become a piece of paper on a shelf, according to Jeffrey Sachs special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Koffi Anan.
Sachs, who is also the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, said the biggest limiting factor of public health in Africa was money.
“There is very little follow through of help for the poor,” Sachs told journalists during a teleconference from Boston.
The UN General Assembly is meeting this week to review progress in controlling the global malaria crisis which has claimed the lives of almost a million, mostly poor women and children in Africa this year.
In April 2000, at Africa’s first presidential summit entirely dedicated to the impact of malaria, world leaders signed a pledge promising action.
This week’s meeting revealed that many Heads of State and donor agencies had not honored the very specific promises made amid great global fanfare in Abuja, Nigeria.
These included lifting mosquito net taxes, expanding access to mosquito nets and access to effective treatment drugs, as well as a $500-million commitment from the World Bank to fight malaria.
“There has been a great deal of political attention in terms of conferences, but the actual responses have been inadequate,” Sachs said. Despite a promise to drop mosquito net taxes, 26 countries were still charging taxes on treated mosquito nets. This included South Africa.
Leaders also promised to ensure by 2005 that at least 60% of those at risk of malaria, particularly pregnant women and children under five years, benefit from the most suitable combination of personal and community protective measures such as insecticide treated mosquito nets and other interventions which are accessible and affordable to prevent infection and suffering.
Currently in 24 countries the use of treated nets for children under five years is at or below five percent. The third promise involved making effective drugs available to 60% of malaria patients by 2005. It was found that although 56% of children under five years had been treated with an anti-malarial, most were treated with chloroquine, an ineffective drug.
This is because the parasite has grown resistant to many anti-malarial drugs. Sachs said chloroquine cost 5 cents (US) per regimen while the effective Artemisinin regimen cost between U$1 and U$2.
“Cost and price is not as a big issue as it is with the anti-AIDS drugs. Yes, we need to produce the drugs as cheaply as possible, but currently it is affordable,” Sachs said.
But it has not only been countries that have failed the poor. A promise by the World Bank to donate U$500-million toward the eradication of the disease has not been met.
“The bank has come nowhere near meeting this pledge,” Sachs said. Among donor countries only Ireland had paid in full its entire pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Only U$500-million of new resources has been pledged to the Global Fund in all of 2002.
“I am not confident at all that we are going to solve this soon. It is a daily struggle to connect words with actions,” Sachs said.