Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Dying for Europe

Courtesty of the All Africa website, The Monitor (Kampala) offers a thought-provoking opinion piece this morning, the like of which we are unlikely to see in the UK mainstream media.

Written by Moses Mulondo and Hasfa Nabayunga, it draws attention to the "silent but serious killer", a plague which kills 3,000 children a day, a death toll far greater than HIV/Aids mortality.

This is Malaria, a disease which, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) 2003 report, is the greatest cause of mortality in Africa. It normally affects children under the age of five mainly because they have not yet had a chance to develop partial immunity to the disease. Affected children can die within 48 to 72 hours of developing symptoms. Those who survive often suffer impaired physical and intellectual development.

Pregnant women are also at a high risk of the disease because the pregnancy lowers the mother's immunity making her susceptible to repeated infections. The parasite kills the red blood cells and causes severe anaemia. Anaemia is the major factor contributing to maternal deaths in malaria endemic regions.

Not only does the disease cause severe health problems, it also has a significant economic effect. The areas most hit by the disease are the rural and agricultural communities that comprise the majority of Africa's population. Unfortunately, peak malaria incidence coincides with the rainy season, a time when agricultural demands are greatest but, due to the disease, the farmers end up not working.

According to a recent study by Harvard University, malaria slows economic growth by 1.3 percent a year. Over the last 30 years, Africa as a whole has lost at least $100b dollars due to malaria.

The greater problem now is that almost all the drugs used in treating malaria are not effective and, at the same time, the mosquito that spreads the infection is also showing increasing resistance to many insecticides. As a result, pressure is growing to resume use of the one insecticide which remains effective – DDT.

"It remains the best alternative to fighting malaria and the earlier it is used the better," says Dr. Seggane Musisi, a senior consultant psychiatrist in Mulago Hospital. "Well, it may have some side effects but this is not an issue given the rate at which malaria is killing people in Africa which cannot be rated to the trivial side effects of DDT pointed out by those against its usage," he adds.

But here is the rub. A few months ago, EU representatives threatened ministers that if Uganda chose to use DDT for malaria control, exporters would have to procure expensive equipment to ensure that their products do not contain any amount of residual DDT; otherwise they would face sanctions against their agricultural products.

Yet, according to the minister of health, Jim Muhwezi, "DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria." "Europe and America became malaria-free because of using DDT, and now we too intend to get rid of malaria by using it," he added.

If Uganda does use the product, though, it risks losing valuable exports to EU member states, which will drive it further into poverty. Either way, the nation has problems with what amounts to its people dying for Europe.

See also this paper by the American Enterprise Institute.


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