Cloud hang over CIDA Malaria project funding

Editorial | 22 Jan 2007
Nyasa Times

A Canadian program that's saved thousands of Malawians from deadly malaria has been scaled back while federal officials decide whether to renew funding.

The withdrawal of funding will have serious repurcussions on Malawi and the only option on table is to reconsider the introduction of DDT means of reducing the malaria death toll despite the damage to agricultural trade with EU.

Critics say it's a case of bureaucratic foot-dragging in the face of overwhelming success. But the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) calls it due diligence to ensure money is well spent on a program it supports.

More than one million people die of malaria each year, 90 per cent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. A child succumbs to the preventable disease there every 30 seconds. There is no vaccine.

Over the last three years, the Canadian Red Cross has given away 2.6 million treated bed nets, worth $8 each, in Zambia, Togo, Niger, Mozambique, Malawi and Sierra Leone. The nets are crucial protection, credited in follow-up surveys with saving 70,000 lives.

Mothers and children formed huge lines to receive the bed nets, along with measles vaccines and vitamins. The revolutionary campaigns offering multiple treatments were launched, mostly thanks to $26 million from Canada's federal aid agency.

The program is so respected that other aid groups have copied elements. CIDA is spending $9 million through UNICEF to distribute more than one million mosquito nets in Ethiopia.

But there isn't enough cash to launch other desperately needed countrywide campaigns, the Red Cross says.

Red Cross officials first asked for extended funding for the campaign 17 months ago. Talks with federal officials have continued off and on since then, intensifying in the last two months.

A CIDA spokesperson says the government couldn't approve more cash without assessing possible improvements and fully reviewing a final Red Cross proposal. That document was only received last week, said the official who asked not to be named. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Malawi was one of seven African countries to join the US-funded Presidential Malaria Initiative in December.

The initiative aims to cut malaria-related deaths by 50 per cent in five years, by targeting those most vulnerable to the disease pregnant women and young children.

Part of the US$ 15 million going to Malawi has been set aside to purchase DDT, if its use is agreed.