UN health official: Israel can help save many lives

Calls for aid to stop diseases in poor countries.

jeffrey sachs 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeffrey sachs 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Columbia University health policy expert and senior health adviser to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has urged Israel and other Western countries to help prevent the deaths of 10 to 15 million people in poverty-stricken countries each year by donating their know-how, equipment and funds. Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at New York's Columbia University and a frequent visitor to Israel, appeared Wednesday via videoconference from Brasilia before participants in the Third International Health Policy Conference. Organized by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research at the Jerusalem International Conference Center, Sachs was due to speak in person at the conference but was called urgently to Brazil to meet with that country's president. Sachs, who is widely considered to be the leading international economic adviser of his generation, is director of the UN Millennium Project and special adviser to Annan on meeting its internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease and hunger by the year 2015. He is also president of Millennium Promise Alliance, a non-profit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty. He told the hundreds of conference participants from 37 countries including Israel that these preventible deaths from malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, AIDS, respiratory infections, unsafe childbirth, nutritional deficiencies and parasitic disorders are all preventible - and treatable once they occur. They all result, he said, from poverty, living in unstable and harmful environments, lacking decent medical care, clean water and sanitary conditions and eating a poor diet. "Malaria costs $1 per patient to treat and is 100 percent effective," said Sachs, "but two or three million children will die of it each year. Insecticide-infused bed nets cost $5 apiece and last for five years; they can be distributed to all in a week or two as part of campaign a few times a year in which kids are brought to get vaccinations, get dewormed for five cents apiece and take vitamins." Rich Western countries - in which he included Israel - and international organizations and individual and corporate donors could save lives by contributing only 0.5% of their Gross National Products, to provide what the poorest countries require, including the infrastructure to get it to the needy, Sachs added. It would be not only for altruistic reasons, but because saving lives and reducing poverty in the most desperate countries creates stability and was good for the world in general, he added. Asked what Israelis can do, Sachs said he had been speaking to the International Cooperation Department (Mashav) of the Foreign Ministry to ask for increased assistance. This department, he said, sent large numbers of capable Israeli experts to Africa for decades until countries cut off diplomatic relations for geopolitical reasons after the Yom Kippur and first Lebanon Wars. But when going to villages, he learned that even a single Israeli agronomist who taught farmers how to work better was remembered, appreciated and admired decades after he left. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa looked like the Negev used to, Sachs said, and Israeli skills, equipment and information could be a boon. They desperately needed help, not in the form of money but mainly as equipment and knowhow, Sachs said. Those who argued that saving Third World children from death would lead to a population explosion were wrong, he said, because couples who didn't have to worry about their children dying to ensure the survival of a few would lower their fertility rates to two or three instead of six or seven. On missions of the UN and the World Health Organization, where he was an adviser to the previous director-general, Sachs said, he learned that not only did poverty cause massive ill health and death, but massive illness and mortality harmed the economy, as people become too ill to be productive. "Just this narrow set of TB, malaria, diarrheal and acute lower respiratory diseases, tropical parasites, vaccine-preventible diseases and nutritional deficiencies represent 80 to 90% of the excess disease burden in these countries, and every one of these conditions can be prevented or cured," Sachs stressed. "We could quickly reduce deaths by seven to nine million poor people each year for about $40 per capita, which is impossible for poor countries that have governmental expenditures of $30 per capita per year."