Sachs points out how devastating malaria can be - he predicts it will kill two million African children this year - yet how relatively easy it is to prevent and treat with some quite inexpensive tools. Insecticide treated mosquito nets, which cost about $10 apiece, are an effective preventive measure, and a new medicine can treat malaria at a cost of about a dollar per treatment. The Red Cross has demonstrated that the mosquito nets can be distributed well in pilot programs in Togo and Niger.
The problem is that many African people and nations can simply not afford ten bucks per person for such a mosquito net. Sachs estimates that a comprehensive prevention and treatment program for the entire African continent would cost about $3 billion per year. That sounds like a lot, but Sachs gives a couple examples of how minimal that amount is compared to some other items. For example, if we figure there are about one billion people in the high income world, that's $3 apiece. It's 12.5% of the estimated $24 billion in Wall Street's Christmas bonuses. Another example came to my mind. If we figure the Iraq war to cost about $80 billion per year - likely a conservative estimate - that $3 billion pays for 14 days of war.
It's only fair, though, that I relate an example that hits a little closer to home. If we figure that an extremely premature baby's hospital bill is $500,000, that's equivalent to the cost of 50,000 insecticide treated mosquito nets, which have the potential of saving many lives, not just one. Is that fair? Of course it's not, and it bothers me. The problem, though, is that I don't know how to take that $500,000 from the extremely premature babies and give it to the kids who need mosquito nets, and I don't think anyone else does either. Let's face it: If we were to stop caring for tiny premies in order to save money, it's highly unlikely that the money saved would go to African children. It would be much more likely to go to tax cuts, pork barrel projects, or American social programs.
So what are people with a conscience to do? Frankly, I'm not about to stop resuscitating premature babies, especially when parents and society tell me I should resuscitate them, but I can stop ignoring the malaria problem and donate money for nets. Sachs suggests charities like malarianomore.org and nothingbutnets.net (no pun intended). I agree with Sachs and also with Jimmy Carter, who once famously said "Life isn't fair."