This Christmas, take heart: Capitalism is saving the world
By Paul Homewood
Slightly off topic, but this piece in the Telegraph from Fraser Nelson does have wider implications:
Did you know that someone dies of malaria every 60 seconds? You may do, if you’ve seen one of the latest Christian Aid posters picturing an African girl staring fearfully at the camera, or a young boy lying on what seems to be his deathbed. They send a powerful Christmas message: while we celebrate in comfort, children are dying for want of a £3 mosquito net. And we could change this, if only we chose to help.
"Global progress in malaria control over the last 15 years is nothing short of remarkable."
Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general
What these adverts don’t tell you, though, is the remarkable extent to which we are helping – and, more importantly, the way in which Africans are helping themselves. Malaria, mankind’s biggest killer, is now retreating faster than at any time since records began.
Earlier this month, the United Nations announced that malaria’s global death toll has more than halved since the turn of the century, saving six million lives. It’s the greatest success story of modern times, yet no one seems interested in telling it.
The aid donations, the billion mosquito nets, the surge in proper testing – all form part of the picture. But so do the efforts of Africans themselves.
Take Eritrea. In 1999, its health ministry mounted a comprehensive assault on malaria, taking insecticide-treated nets to villages so they could provide faster, better diagnosis and improved treatment.
Western donors helped to pay, but it was chiefly a matter of organisation and willpower that got things going. After little more than a decade, Eritrean malaria rates had fallen by 90 per cent.
This story has been repeated, to a greater or lesser degree, across the continent. At the turn of the century, barely 2 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans slept under mosquito nets. Now, 55 per cent do.
Save the Children’s winter appeal features a sad-looking boy from Congo and warns that “thousands of children like Kabeya will wake up sick with hunger” this Christmas.
This is quite true, but the world over, malnutrition rates stand at an all-time low and are falling fast. The stunning truth about Congo is that it has almost halved its extreme poverty rate in 10 years. In fact, across the world, poverty rates and child mortality rates have halved since 1990.
Photo: Save the Children
Back then, only 52 per cent of children in sub-Saharan Africa went to primary school. Now, 80 per cent do – and the number is rising.
This has been a landmark year for Africa. It’s the first year in history, for example, that no wild polio cases have been reported in the continent; a disease that used to strike and often paralyse 350,000 children a year is now almost extinct. Aids infections have halved over the past 15 years. The recent eradication of Ebola in Sierra Leone is only the latest triumph in Africa’s war against the kinds of diseases that have kept so many countries on their knees for so long.
"As any fundraiser will tell you, the surest way of raising money is to tell tales of poverty, helplessness and desperation"
While overseas support has been crucial and highly effective in the struggle, the strongest force pushing back disease in the continent is capitalism; trade still brings in far more money than aid. Indoor smoke, dirty water and hunger still kill more Africans than malaria, so when a villager can afford rudimentary sanitation and healthcare, the effect on disease is profound.
A recent African Union conference set a two-year deadline to turn the whole continent into a free-trade area. This is no mere fantasy: since the beginning of the century, the value of trade between African countries has risen five times over; mobile phones are now as common in Nigeria and South Africa as they are in Britain.
Charities, though, by their nature, don’t tend to spend too much time spreading good news.
A Zimbabwean woman puts a child to bed inside a mosquito net in rural Gutu, 2009 – Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo
As any fundraiser will tell you, the surest way of raising money is to tell tales of poverty, helplessness and desperation. Donating money to good malaria charities remains a wonderfully efficient way to save lives, so these harrowing advertising campaigns do serve a noble purpose. But they risk perpetuating the damaging stereotype of Africans living in squalor, and give a misleading impression about the true state of the world.
Bill Gates’s charitable foundation has played a full role in the battle against malaria. It does not rely on pulling heartstrings to gain support, so he is free of any need to spin a tale of Africa in meltdown. Instead, he talks about “mind-blowing” progress being made before our eyes. On current trends, he says, there will be almost no poor countries left within 20 years.
If this sounds like a wild exaggeration, it shouldn’t: all the data is pointing in this direction.
This is a story that is not told very often, but it is none the less the story of our age: globalisation is spreading ideas, medicine and wealth, forcing down inequality and bringing the world closer together.
With enough capitalism, poverty might become history after all.
As with the cereal harvest statistics I reported on the other day, it shows that, whatever may be happening to the climate, conditions for ordinary Africans has been improving in leaps and bounds in recent years, This is the direct result of a modern society, which has been brought about by global economic development.
Fraser Nelson is spot on – charities love to portray Africans as helpless victims, living in squalor. They are not – given the appropriate support and encouragement, they are more than capable of making a better life for themselves.