21 August 2007

Fighting wars we can win

The news on the war front isn't good these days: Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror, they all drag on and on, cost billions and billions of dollars, and seem to go nowhere.

Finally, some good news: a war to be won and to be won cheaply. It isn't a real war -- I just thought I'd borrow from the rhetoric of the day. I refer to the campaign against malaria, one of humankind's greatest enemies, a scourge that kills over a million people every year, mostly children and pregnant women. Kenya has recently announced a great victory in this campaign.

Kenya's Ministry of Health, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Britain's Department for International Development, has distributed thirteen million insecticide-treated nets across the country since 2003. As a result, the number of children sleeping under a net has increased from 5 per cent to 52 per cent, and child deaths from malaria in high-risk areas have nearly halved. Peter Olumese, a medical officer with WHO's Global Malaria Programme, claimed, "Seven lives were saved for every 1,000 nets given out." The WHO recommends that the nets, which cost only $5, be used by all community members. The project is being hailed as a model for other African countries.

Extending the program across Africa would not only save millions of lives, it would go a long way toward invigorating the continent. I can't help comparing this remarkably effective "war" to Canada's war in Afghanistan where we will have spent $4.3 billion (plus another $600 million in aid) when our mission ends in 2009 for results that, so far at least, are at best questionable. One almost weeps to think how much more effectively this money could be spent, how many more lives could be saved, how many more improved -- indeed, how much better we could serve the world.

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