Malaria threat now minimal
JOHANNESBURG - To the minerals and mobiles underpinning Africa's growth over the last decade, you may soon be able to add malaria - or at least its absence.
Besides the huge human cost imposed on the continent - 90% of the 655,000 deaths estimated worldwide in 2010 - the mosquito-borne disease is an economic millstone, draining public and private resources and hammering productivity.
According to a 2001 study co-authored by US economist Jeffrey Sachs, the disease imposes an annual "growth penalty" of 1.3% points on afflicted states, which includes most of those south of the Sahara, apart from South Africa.
In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and the biggest oil producer, malaria is responsible for up to 25 worker days lost per person per year, or two a month, due to direct infection or the need to stay at home to nurse a sick family member, often for a week or more.
In Zambia, it is the leading cause of absenteeism, accounting for more than twice as many days off as HIV-Aids, and can consume up to 40% of the public health budget in cash-strapped frontline states.
It may not always be thus.
The number of malaria deaths has fallen dramatically in the last decade due to increased aid spending on basic items such as insecticide-treated bed nets and drugs, the World Health Organisation says.
More excitingly, the holy grain of a vaccine against a notoriously adaptable parasite no longer appears unobtainable after an experimental vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline was shown last year to halve the risk of African children getting the disease.
Even before the prospect of a vaccine, companies across Africa were waking up to the commercial sense of investing in a malaria-free workforce - and the results are encouraging governments to get in on the act.
Europe's financial crisis and relatively sluggish rich-world growth have left a question mark over cash pools such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria that have been complementing state and private sector efforts, threatening to unravel the gains made. - Reuters