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Advocates Call For Follow-Through On Decade-Old Pledge To Remove Tariffs On Malaria Treatments, Prophylactics In Africa

“Malaria prevention advocates say many lives can be saved by removing taxes and tariffs from essential commodities used to fight the disease,” VOA News reports (Schlein, 2/9). A decade ago, African leaders promised to remove tariffs on products used to fight malaria, but only six countries have actually done so, according to the Malaria Taxes and Tariffs Advocacy Project (M-TAP), which held a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday, Reuters reports.

“While progress has been made in removing taxes and tariffs and rolling back import barriers, many countries still have a long way to go,” Halima Mwenesi, director of M-TAP, said in a statement after the meeting. Eliminating taxes and tariffs can significantly reduce costs, according to campaigners, who note that most drugs and other malaria products are imported from abroad. Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania, Uganda and the Asian nation of Papua New Guinea “have done away with tariffs on commodities recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as essential to effective malaria control,” according to M-TAP, which has been collecting data from almost 80 malaria-endemic countries over the past two year (Kelland, 2/10).

“They are imported from the manufacturing countries, which are either in Europe or Asia. By the time they get into the countries and you have markups from the private sector or then you have all the distribution costs, etc.,” Mwenesi said. “Then add on to that the tariffs and taxes, it becomes very difficult for people who are not necessarily making a lot of money to access these commodities,” Mwenesi added, VOA News writes. “The commodities include insecticide-treated mosquito nets, artemisinin-based combination therapies, rapid diagnostic tests, insecticides for indoor residual spraying, and spray pumps,” according to the story (2/9).

M-TAP “said it found that taxes and tariffs on anti-malaria products provide only minimal revenues, and these gains are often offset by health costs and lost productivity from preventable malaria illnesses,” Reuters writes. “Taxes and tariffs may also prevent the poor from gaining access to malaria treatment, the group said. Anecdotal evidence suggests most people seeking treatment for fever buy their medicines from local chemists and kiosks rather than from local government clinics and hospitals. The average medicine course can cost between $6 and $10 in many African and Asian countries, while three billion people worldwide earn less than $2.50 per day, M-TAP said,” the news service writes.  

“Private sector providers continue to play a critical role in supplying access to malaria treatment and prevention despite the huge increase in donor commitments over the past five years,” said Mwenesi, adding, “We must make every effort to ensure that cost does not pose a significant barrier to access.”

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, head of the WHO’s Roll Back Malaria Partnership, said African countries are starting to take the lead on this initiative and “she hoped governments in Asia and Latin America would now follow” (2/10).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.