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Is the Financial Crisis in Africa?

CNN is the only channel I get in English, so I watch a lot of it. Needless to say, I’m kind of sick of hearing about the global economic/financial crisis, especially since the reports of the end of the world as we know it have little relation to my day-to-day life.

Here in Benin, high unemployment and poor business prospects are not news. Home foreclosures and vanishing retirement funds would be news because it would mean that people had actually owned homes and had retirement funds. This is not to say that the crisis has not or will not have an impact here, but if it is, it’s not nearly as visible or talked about.

There has been a lot of speculation over what the crisis would mean for Africa. Some say that it will be felt less here because of Africa’s relative isolation from global markets and its already low levels of foreign investment and trade.  Others argue that many African countries’ already precarious economic states and their dependence on foreign investment, loans, and aid put them in a vulnerable position

In my little world of global health, these are boom times. People working on control of AIDS or malaria 10 years ago couldn’t have imagined the bounty of resources we have today. The Global Fund has provided $10 billion to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria since 2001. U.S. funding for malaria is expected to be $500 million in 2010, up from less than $80 million in 2004. And U.S. spending on global HIV/AIDS went from $840 million in 2001 to $6 billion in 2008. Last year the U.S. committed another $48 billion to fight the big three diseases over the next five years.

Here in Benin, the country’s ability to absorb the malaria funds on offer is more of an issue than finding enough money to carry out essential activities and buy drugs and bed nets. But now we’re starting to wonder if the sorry financial management in rich countries is going to be paid for by the poor. Although money has been committed for the coming years, “commitments” are often taken more as suggestions when the time comes for Congress to write the check. Many fear that quiet reductions in foreign aid that will make a tiny dent in U.S. foreign debt will have huge implications on global health.

With a president in the White House that seems to be sympathetic to the cause, things look good so far, but if rich countries don’t manage to sort out their problems fairly soon, Beninese kids might start cursing Bernie Madoff and AIG too.