Jeffrey D. Sachs calls attention to Neglected Tropical Diseases – or NTDs. This diseases afflict Africans especially.

Currently, developmental aid focuses too much on vague economic structural reform or big-name diseases like HIV. Yet it’s the little things like dysentery and parasitic worms that wreck societies. Many of these ailments can be cured with very cheap medicine and treatment

Developmental economics and foreign aid has been ineffective. Billions in foreign aid has not had any effect on African economies. Unfortunately, aid often makes problems worse. It fuels corruption, for instance. In another unfortunate case, massive amounts of foreign food aid causes food prices to drop, puts local farmers out of business and prevents agricultural recovery after a famine.

International organizations often approach development issues as if there were direct causes and effects. The lack of education means that international aid should assist education reform. They subsidize schools, books and teachers and various comprehensive reforms. And then nothing happens.

A more in-depth look at the problems reveals that seemingly unrelated problems may have a great effect on education or employment. One of the most cost-effective and important education reforms in Africa are de-worming medicines. It’s a counterintuitive result that economists discovered. If you stop and think, this makes sense: sick children do not go to school.

Many of these diseases, like the NTD and dysentery are relatively affordable and easy to fix. We can better allocate our resources to solving public health problems.

Disease holds back development in many areas of the world. There are other small reforms in medicine and nutrition that can greatly improve physical and mental health. For instance, many in Africa suffer from an iodine deficiency. In modernized countries, we add iodine to salt and food.

Malnutrition and diseases cause long-term economic damage beyond the period of famine. They stunt mental and physical development of individuals in society. This creates a range of problems, from lower IQs, weaker bodies, to sickly workers that limit economic growth. It’s not that the poor are lazy or that Westerners don’t give them enough money.

Will this lead to the development of Africa? No. The problem is too complex to identify a single “fix-all” solution. This is definitely one of many problems that ruined progress in Africa.

On the other hand, I disagree with Sachs that an anti-NTD program would be as cheap as he believes. It won’t be anywhere near as cheap as $3billion after logistics, corruption, and security costs are taken into account. Many NGOs and medical teams have to hire security forces to provide protection from warlords and criminals who would steal the goods and sell them on the black market. That’s just one of the many painful problems in the region.

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