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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Things are likely to get worse"
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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK
Debt plea to help fight malaria
Mosquitoes: Tiny, but deadly carriers of malaria
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has appealed to Western nations to cancel debts owed by African countries to allow them spend more on fighting malaria.

He also rebuked them for ignoring the danger of malaria, since it had gone from being a threat worldwide to one mainly affecting Africa.

His comments came at a meeting attended by over 18 African presidents and prime ministers in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to co-ordinate anti-malaria strategies.

Mr Obasanjo said: "We have reached a stage now whereby the small amounts we could have allocated to combating malaria and improving our health care is being used to service our debt."

Nigerian president
President Obasanjo wants Western debts scrapped

He added that "no realistic anti-malaria effort or development strategy is conceivable or meaningful with these debts hanging around our necks".

His remarks were echoed by Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who also condemned Western powers for investing millions of pounds in Aids research, while neglecting malaria.

He said: "Malaria gets neither equal attention for funds or research from the big pharmaceutical trusts, which nevertheless derive great profits from our countries".

Conference delegates have committed themselves to halving the annual number of malaria-related deaths on the continent in the next decade.

Malaria gets neither equal attention for funds or research

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
The World Health Organisation, which is helping to stage the conference, estimates that about one million people die from malaria each year.

Figures show that 90% of deaths from the disease occur in Africa, with young children most at risk.

It is estimated that 2,500 African children under the age of five die from malaria every day.

Africa is the only continent where the disease is spreading and this is because of environmental changes, the collapse of health systems, the growing resistance of the malaria parasite to drugs and the resistance of malaria-carrying mosquitos to insecticides.

Political will

However, the WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund believe the key factor in fighting malaria is not money, but the political will of African governments.

Causes fever, pains, violent chills
Can kill quickly if untreated
Nearly 500m cases last year
Global warming is taking malaria into new areas
Returned recently to central Asia

A report released at the meeting in Abuja drew attention to the economic consequences of malaria's resurgence in Africa.

That report, by the American economist, Jeffrey Sachs, says malaria has played a significant role in Africa's poor economic performance.

He reckons a country could lose 20% of its national income because of malaria over a 15-year period

He told the BBC of his shock in discovering the disease's economic cost.

"The cost of malaria is substantially greater than economists have previously estimated," he said.

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See also:

19 Apr 00 | Africa
Giant mosquito net unveiled
21 Apr 00 | Health
Malaria vaccine 'closer'
06 Jan 00 | Americas
Taking on the malaria bug
02 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Researchers map malaria parasite
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
03 Nov 99 | Health
WHO drive to combat malaria
24 Apr 00 | Africa
Malaria: Keeping Africa poor
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