Monday, May 10, 2004

Prime Minister’s Commission for Africa

I welcome the Prime Ministers steps to try and improve the lives of people in Africa.

Having lived in Malawi (one Southern Africa’s poorest nations) for eleven months I think the more developed countries desperately need to help these poor countries tackle four major problems they have.

I believe that when the commission publishes its report next year during Britain's presidency of the G8 that will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Live Aid concert it will find that the main problems in the African countries are corruption, ignorance, illness/diseases and poverty.

In relation to illness/diseases the developed countries need to start by helping the African countries in the fight against Aids because after all aids may kill far more people over the next 20 years than the bubonic plague ever did. In my eyes Aids is Mother Nature’s weapon of mass destruction.

Developed countries can help poorer countries such as Malawi, South Africa provide anti-retroviral drugs to prevent mother to child transmission-but the problem is not an easy matter of simply providing drugs, however cheap they are. The drugs will not conquer the epidemic or do the trick. The drugs are far too complicated to take and need to be backed by things that are simple for us in the west, such as good nutrition, if they are to work.

The African countries need good health workers who are educated in the delivery of Aids drugs if those drugs are to be any good at all. If we do not have such workers, the drugs will be taken improperly, resistance to the disease will develop and we will have to start all over again.

Vaccines are the ultimate weapons against any infectious disease, and the global fund, the Americans, the Gates Foundation, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative have done some worthy work. Trials of aids vaccines are going on all over the world, but there are not enough of them. We must ensure that funds enhance research into aids vaccines because that will lead to the end of the epidemic, as it did for smallpox and as it soon will do for polio.

Also I hear that African countries spend approximately $14 billion a year on servicing their debt. The global fund has estimated that those countries need roughly $10 billion to do something that will have an impact on the aids epidemic. I hope the commission will look at how Britain can help with that after all aids destroys economically active people in the population and will destroy the ability of any country to service its debt because fewer people will be working.

The distribution of condoms from the USA amounts in Botswana to one condom per annum per man. How many people reading this blog can cope with that? So lets get serious about this epidemic and work with our colleagues in the G8, Commonwealth, and European Union and try making life easier for those who cannot do it themselves.

Apart from aids other illnesses such as Yellow Fever (eventually leads to death), Hepatitis A (recovery takes about 2 months), Malaria, Polio (eventually leads to death), Tetanus, Typhoid etc also cause major problems in Africa. If an economically active person in the population contracts one of these illnesses the family will naturally see their income fall as this person will be unable to work for sometime which could easily lead to them loosing their job (I know that would have been the case where I worked). Then their costs will rise, as they have to pay for the medical treatment that their relative receives.

A way of trying to reduce the cases of these illnesses is to educate the population. For example just informing the local population that the Hepatitis A virus is picked up from contaminated food and water or teaching the local population that they should avoid unpeeled fruit, badly cooked meat, untreated milk etc and that they should purify water or make sure it is clean.

Educating the local people should not only be about trying to help them prevent the spread of illness but also about making them economically active and able to compete for the best jobs in their economy. As most people start life in poverty in most these countries it might be worth their local education authorities and their international supporters coming together to develop more vocational training and education for young and old alike so that people can earn while they learn thus not giving one up for the other.

Unfortunately from my experience Malawi and Africa as a whole to an extent has a massive problem with corruption. This is from the police officer at the local checkpoint allowing you to get away without checking your driving licence because you have offered him something as small as a packet of flour or a drink to some customs and excise officers accepting bribes of £100-200 (which is their monthly wage) to allow you to import goods declaring a very small proportion of the goods real values. I know in Malawi they have established the anti-corruption bureau to tackle corruption but from my experience it does very little. For example in the area where I worked I along with everyone else knew that most if not all goods that came into the country were due to a corrupt customs and excise officer somewhere or the other but I very rarely saw any anti-corruption bureau staff there. If countries like Malawi wish to increase the income they can get from people doing business and working in their country they desperately need to cut down on the corruption that exists in the civil service and maximise their revenue.

I think you will admit that if we can help people in Africa tackle their health problems (illnesses) that we can fight both (ignorance and poverty) the other evils of life as I like to call them because fit people are economically active they can provide for themselves and because can use their income to educate themselves or their younger brother/sisters or children.

I hope that when the commission publishes its report next year during Britain's presidency of the G8 it calls on all the different organisations, which can help Africa to come together and tackle the problems facing Africa. I also hope that with senior African figures such as KY Amoako, Dr. Anna Kajumulo, Benjamin Mkapa, Trevor Manuel, Meles Zenawi, Dr William S Kalema, Fola Adeola and Linah Mohohlo African countries will look at the findings of the commission as something for their benefit and work with others to implement the findings of the commission. With senior African figures joined by others from Europe and North America I hope the commission does not become another talk shop which spends a lot of money putting together a report which then does nothing for African countries desperate for help.

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