- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

A 2-year-old effort by African leaders to combat malaria a disease that claims as many lives as AIDS has failed, according to a report that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented to the General Assembly yesterday.
"We are still far from the Abuja goals," says the report, referring to the Nigerian capital where the effort began with a meeting of African leaders two years ago.
"It is clear that the goal of reducing the malaria burden by half by the year 2010 represents an enormous challenge," the report says.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that is preventable and curable, kills a more than 2 million a year, more than 90 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.
The overwhelming majority of those dying are pregnant women and children younger than 5.
In 1998, the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria campaign started with the goal of cutting malaria in half by 2010.
Two years ago, heads of state and senior representatives from 43 African nations met in Abuja, Nigeria, with U.N. representatives, World Bank officials and aid representatives from Europe, Japan and the United States to coordinate efforts to reduce the incidence of malaria.
The effort primarily focused on distributing bed nets that have been dipped in insecticide and making better drugs available for treating the disease.
Donor nations and international agencies pledged an estimated $750 million a year to fund the campaign.
"The efforts made so far have been piecemeal," said Dr. Fred Binka, a public health officer and malaria specialist in Accra, Ghana, in a conference call with reporters yesterday to discuss the report.
"Those who are dying are poor. The major agencies made promises, but those promises have not been kept."
The April 2000 conference pledged to get insecticide-treated mosquito nets to 60 percent of the people needing them by the year 2005. Today, less than 5 percent of Africans sleep under mosquito nets.
African leaders promised to abolish taxes on the nets to make them more affordable, but at least 26 countries still tax the $5 nets, making them an out-of-reach luxury for most African families.
Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs said yesterday that the biggest failure of Abuja is that Western nations have not donated the money they promised. At Abuja, the World Bank promised $500 million annually, but less than $100 million has been made available.
Mr. Sachs said it will take between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion a year to adequately fund a anti-malaria campaign. The United States has appropriated $65 million for 2002.
"The international response to the crisis has been fundamentally inadequate," Mr. Sachs said in yesterday's conference call with African, European and U.S. reporters. "We haven't even started to make a dent in the need."
Malaria, which is considered the biggest single obstacle to development in some countries, reduces GDP by as much as 1 percent a year, he said.
Mr. Sachs said that South Africa, which uses bed nets, drug therapy and has reintroduced DDT to deal with a malaria outbreak in the KwaZulu-Natal region, showed what can be done if resources are available.
"South Africa is an example of how, if you invest money, you get results," he said. "DDT is proven effective in certain settings. Sprayed inside houses, it can be enormously effective and a tremendous lifesaver."

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