More on Malaria, Nets and Foreign Aid

My thoughts on malaria and the aid industry in Africa stirred up some comments a few weeks back. Well, tmsruge weighs in with much stronger comments than I mine, inspired by some celebrity stunt in the US that I was unaware of.

The solution to malaria, much like varied solutions to ending our addiction to aid, can be found within Africa. My problem with the strategy of dealing with malaria employed by Malaria No MoreNothing but Nets, et al is that it erodes the ability of local capacity to deal with this problem. It is also not infinitely sustainable, and dare I say it,  smacks of paternalistic ethos. It’s a band-aid on a gashing wound. It’s the “fly-to-Africa-and-adopt-a-brown-baby-instead-of-investing-in-a-sustainable-business-that-can-help-the-entire-family” syndrome. Africa’s capacity to tackle these issues is vastly eroded by a Western celebrity culture of “look at me, look at me, I am saving Africa”-ism, and the misguided notion that Africans can’t do anything for ourselves, therefore it is the West’s right to do things for us.

Sure bed nets keep you from being bitten, but what are we supposed to do when we are not under the nets? But our lives could be that much richer is were earning a living as workers in the non-existent African anti-malarial industry. We could have been growing artemisia and pyrethrum or working at a bed net factory; feeding my family with the proceeds, but alas, I can’t…

Wouldn’t it be better to invest money into indigenous companies that can make the nets, therefore maintaining a sustainable business selling bed nets? Or investing in the agricultural sector so farmers are more able to meet demand for crops like Artemesia annua and pyrethrum, easily-grown botanical ingredients in  anti-malarial drugs?

These seemingly well-intentioned celebrity stunts of altruism are not killing mosquitos, instead they are killing the livelihoods of the very people that are supposed to benefit from the nets. And this is not symptomatic of celebrity cluelessness as applied to the eradication of malaria. It’s systemic fault in International Development sectors. Even WHO is also implicitly clueless in this regard. (Read more)

Once again, I realise that this is counter-intuitive, but it makes a lot of sense. Creating and supporting local industries isn’t as attractive as simply pouring money in to solve a problem, but it is a much better long term solution.

HT White African via Twitter

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2 replies on “More on Malaria, Nets and Foreign Aid”

I agree with you in principle that the West should not blindly be sending in aid that would undercut local initiatives, etc. I just don’t know if this is the best example to crusade on.

In Mali, it was the government that was distributing the nets to whole regions several years ago, not some has-been celebrity. (Ashton Kutcher? What is he famous for other than being married to Demi Moore?) The Malian govt evidently had funding from somewhere (WHO?).

But I don’ t buy the line that this is taking away from local industry. So someone sends in better bed nets made somewhere in Asia. Is that going to kill the tailor business? West Africa is one of the few places on the planet where everyone but the poorest of the poor have their clothes made at the local tailors. There is a tailor on EVERY block. And to judge from how long it takes to get a shirt made, they are not dying for lack of business.

If we set up a factory to make nets here, that would be great, but who would oversee the chemicals impregnated into the nets and make sure they don’t leach out into the river and sewers and kill us all?
And that factory would likely clothing and other goods that tailors make – and do it more efficiently, thus putting them out of a job.

One of the posts to the article you cited said that in Kenya they tried to grow pyrethrum, but “Kenya killed off the industry because the politicians friends were appointed to the board/authority that had a monopoly over the industry.” Sounds like the spraying efforts in Mali to kill off the locusts. The officials arranged for the spraying not to be done systematically but just over THEIR fields.

There is a missionary couple here doing a “business as mission” project working with local cotton growers and the cotton cloth factory to make t-shirt material. The equipment is there and unused. The idea is to make “green friendly” shirts, made with cotton grown without pesticides, and then set up a factory here to make t-shirts that can be sold to tourists but also to the west to people who want “green clothes”. They are trying to set up their factory so that it looks after the interest of the workers and not just the bottom line. We’ll see if it works.

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