March 20, 2002
"We are spending billions of dollars to fight a war on terrorism that tragically claimed a few thousand American lives. Yet we are spending perhaps 1/100th of that in a war against AIDS that kills more than 5,000 Africans each day.
"...The rich world is running out of excuses. Every misconception we've heard about treating AIDS patients -- that the drugs don't work in Africa, the patients wouldn't adhere to 'complex' regimens, that the doctors aren't qualified or can't be trained -- has been matched by similarly lazy misconceptions about foreign assistance.
"We've been told that any aid would be wasted, that debt relief would be squandered by corruption. We've been told that it's not 'cost effective' to spend a tiny fraction of our own income to save millions each year, as if it's cost effective to let a generation die, to allow the collapse of Africa's tottering health care system, and to stand by as tens of millions of children are orphaned.
"Debt-relief foes in Congress have warned that the benefits of debt cancellation would never reach the poor. We found the opposite. In each country that we visited [on our recent trip to Africa] -- Malawi, Uganda, Ghana -- the government is pursing a meticulous and transparent process to ensure that budgetary savings from debt relief are actually channeled into urgent social sectors. The problem is not waste or corruption, the problem is that the extent of help from the US and Europe is so meager in the face of the enormous odds.
"...The US complicity in Africa's mass suffering, unless reversed, will stain our country. Africa is the place where we will confront our own humanity, our morality, our purposes as individuals and as a country."
Jeffrey Sachs is director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and chairperson of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health of the World Health Organization. Sonia Ehrlich Sachs is a pediatrician.