Poor stung by malaria's hidden cost
Sarah Boseley, Health correspondent
April 25, 2000
Malaria is taking a far greater toll of the
economy of many developing countries than has been previously understood,
up to 20% worse off within 15 years than similar countries
without serious infestation, according to a report from the World
The report, by Jeffrey Sachs of the Centre for
International Development at Harvard University, and colleagues at the London
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says: "The cost of malaria is
substantially greater than economists have previously estimated."
Previous estimates have taken account of only
the immediate short-term costs, such as the loss of labour and the costs
treatment and prevention. But the longer-term costs are even more
devastating to the country, Dr Sachs says.
"Malaria may impede the flows of trade,
foreign investment and commerce, thereby affecting a country's entire
"Tourists shun regions with high malaria,
as do multinational firms choosing the location of foreign investments."
Repeated bouts of malaria damage children's
mental and physical development and play havoc with their schooling.
encourages parents to have more children, increasing population growth,
impoverishing families and preventing women from joining
the labour force.
All these are hidden costs not usually taken into account in estimating the
economic damage malaria causes.
The publication of the Sachs report coincides
with the opening today of the first summit of African heads of state - in Abuja,
- to address the issue of malaria. The leaders are expected to commit
themselves to a WHO programme.
"Malaria traps the people of Africa in
poverty," said the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo. "It stops
adults earning a living and
children from going to school. Each year families
spend the equivalent of several months' earnings on malaria treatment
"It does not have to be like this. Malaria
is preventable, treatable and curable."
David Nabarro, head of the Roll Back Malaria
programme, said the work of the economists had shown how malaria control was
just a health matter but a development issue. "The language of the
80s where we saw health and education as a luxury was wrong,"
"Between 1965 and the present, the economic
growth rates of African nations have been reduced by 40% as a result of malaria
its consequences. We're moving towards an awareness that disease is not
just a suffering illness issue but a massive brake on
economic and human
"My personal view is this. Say the total
economic cost of malaria in Africa is $2bn (£1.3bn) a year and we know
that we could halve
malaria death rate in Africa as result of investing $200m
to $300m a year. Put very crudely, that means one extra dollar spent
malaria could be associated with $5-$10 economic benefit. That is one of
the most extraordinarily good development deals around."
The way forward, says the WHO, is through
programmes that incorporate all the best practice in malaria treatment and
such as pesticide-impregnated bednets and combinations of drugs to
counter the resistance that now exists to medicines like
But the notorious pesticide DDT is still the
only way to keep down the malaria-bearing mosquitoes in houses in the
regions of the poorest developing countries, Dr Nabarro
"If we don't use DDT the results will be
measured in loss of life. The cost of the alternatives tend to run at about six
times as much
as the cost of DDT." Environmentalists have been
campaigning for a total ban on DDT.
The long-term hope for malaria control is a
vaccine. The WHO is working to encourage academic institutions and industry
increase their efforts. President Clinton has offered tax credits to
companies producing a vaccine.
© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000