MDG #6: Combat AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

Amy Knop-Narbutis

by Amy Knop-Narbutis

Take a look at your watch for the next 60 seconds. Every second, someone in the world is newly infected with tuberculosis. Every six seconds, someone is infected with HIV. Every 10 seconds, someone dies of AIDS. Every 15 seconds, someone dies of tuberculosis. Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria. During the one minute you have set aside to read this article, at least 70 people have been infected with potentially deadly diseases and 12 have died from them.

This is why the UN has dedicated the sixth Millennium Development Goal to halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases by the year 2015.

AIDS has become the fourth-largest cause of death worldwide, while malaria and tuberculosis together kill nearly as many people each year as AIDS. Together, HIV and TB form a deadly combination, each increasing the other’s impact. TB accounts for approximately 13 percent of AIDS deaths worldwide. Malaria, a wholly-treatable disease, is thought to account for up to 25 percent of child deaths in the developing world.

The countries hit the hardest by these diseases are often under-developed areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority of the deaths from malaria occur and AIDS is the leading cause of premature death. In 2003, there were over 4 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who had lost both parents to AIDS. Life expectancy at birth has also dropped below 40 years in nine African countries. Here is a shocking example: life expectancy in Botswana was 65 in 1988 – based on current trends, in 2008, it is predicted to be 34. Not only do these diseases have a devastating effect on people’s personal lives, but they also hinder the social and economic development of poor countries. For example, in 1999 approximately 860,000 African children lost their teachers to AIDS. Economically, countries with severe malaria averaged a mere 0.4 percent GDP per capita growth from 1965 to 1990, in comparison with 2.3 percent in the rest of the world. These diseases disproportionately affect the poor, who are more vulnerable to infection, have less access to health and educational services, and lack the means to battle the disease’s consequences. Though these statistics may seem daunting, we have the means to combat them. For example, a low-cost strategy to control malaria is to use insecticide treated mosquito nets, which have been shown to reduce child deaths by 17 percent. Also, thanks to local political support and decisive leadership, countries such as Uganda and Thailand have successfully reversed the spread of HIV. Uganda cut the prevalence of HIV and AIDS from its peak of 15 percent in 1991 to 5 percent in 2001 by introducing strong, comprehensive programs of prevention and treatment.

The international community has been slow to acknowledge the enormous impact of these diseases, and a unified approach to tackling them is desperately needed. Countries supporting this MDG must be willing to offer a combination of political willpower, efficient funding and health education so that by 2015, the poorest countries in our world are no longer unfairly crippled by preventable or treatable diseases.