From the Editor's Desk
"Not only poor people should experience this."
- Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft, at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference on February 4, 2009. During a presentation about public health efforts to control malaria, Gates opened a jar and let loose seven (malaria-free) mosquitoes into the room.
I oppose Microsoft's persistently nefarious corporate behavior, and am wary of Gates for that reason, but this act of street theater was designed to get people's attention about the need for funds to stop malaria. Perhaps Bill Gates is getting in touch with his inner Abbie Hoffman.
Abbie Hoffman himself, who along with other Yippies in 1967 showered dollar bills onto the New York Stock Exchange to expose the insanity of a system designed around a mad scramble after dollars, once said,
"I tried to reach people. It was not acting. It was not some media muppet show. That is a cynical interpretation of history. Guerrilla theater is probably the oldest form of political commentary. The ideas just keep getting recycled. Showering money on Wall Street brokers was the TV-age version of driving the money changers from the temple."
Gates is no Abbie Hoffman, but perhaps he was engaging in the internet-age version of driving the for-profit health industry from the temple. A for-profit system simply isn't designed to meet the needs of people who can't pay.
According to Doctors Without Borders, malaria kills 2 million people per year, 75% of them children. Despite the effectiveness of many interventions, including ACT therapies, bed nets, and potential vaccines, there is a looming threat to the fight against malaria: a shortage of one of the most effective anti-malaria drugs - because the market prioritizes profits, not lives.
Doctors Without Borders reported on January 27, 2009, "Current best estimates, based on available stocks and current planting efforts, demonstrate that there will be a shortfall of about 40 tons of artemisinin starting material in 2010 to produce the expected 240 million treatments needed. Taking into account that it takes about 14 months from the planting of Artemisia annua to the availability of the finished product, the availability in 2010 depends on what is being planted by farmers in the next weeks and months. We believe that market forces will not resolve the short-term artemisinin supply problem."
According to Tido von Schoen-Angerer, MD, the Executive Director of the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines at Doctors Without Borders International, who wrote the letter above, only $9 million is needed to avert this disaster. Perhaps Gates can be pressed to help with this particular crisis directly. But Doctors Without Borders is treating 1.2 million people stricken with malaria, and wants to scale the program up to help many more people who suffer from the disease. This requires a global response.
Most malaria deaths are preventable with shockingly little public health money. As detailed in this issue of Peacework, investments in public health are astonishingly effective at saving lives. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria is desperately trying to find a way to make up a $5 billion shortfall caused by donor countries' miserliness, because with the money they can save literally millions of lives.
The articles in this issue make the case that structuring our national and global health systems around greed is not only inefficient and costly, it's deadly. The health care we receive should not be determined by the size of our (shrinking) bank accounts.
Universal health care is not only cost-effective, it would save countless lives: perhaps yours, perhaps mine, perhaps the life of someone we love, perhaps the life of someone we don't yet know. Bill Gates' street theater, in the grand tradition, tried to motivate those of us who don't face the scourge of malaria to care about global public health.
When we can save so many with so little, aren't we morally obligated to care enough to give, to help, to act, to protest, to change?
- Sam Diener, Co-Editor