Measles deaths in Africa fell by a dramatic 91 per cent from 2000 to 2006, announced the Measles Initiative, a joint campaign by UN agencies, governments and non-governmental organizations in November. The drop in mortalities in Africa — from 396,000 to 36,000 — contributed greatly to an overall decline in measles deaths worldwide, from 757,000 to 242,000 over the same period. Most of the remaining deaths, about 178,000, are now in southern Asia.
“The dramatic drop in measles deaths in Africa and the strong progress made worldwide are a testament to the power of strong partnerships and the impact they can have on child survival,” says UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann Veneman.
The Measles Initiative, run jointly by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the UN Foundation and the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), oversaw mass vaccination campaigns in the 46 countries most affected by the disease. Thirty-one of those countries were in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 478 million children aged 9 months to 14 years received the measles vaccine. “We literary [went] door-to-door informing, educating and motivating mothers and caregivers about the critical need to vaccinate their children,” explains Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chair of the American Red Cross. “These mobilization efforts [were] essential to our success.”
WHO Director Margaret Chan calls the progress in Africa “a major public health success” and “a tribute to the commitment of countries in the African region.”
Dr. Chan adds: “We need to sustain this success and intensify our efforts in other parts of the world, as there are still far too many lives lost to this disease.”
Trade talks reach impasse at Europe-Africa summit
A long-anticipated summit of European and African leaders vowed to build a new “strategic partnership” between the two regions, but ended mainly with general declarations and few concrete agreements. Some friction was generated by concerns over human rights issues, including the participation of the president of Zimbabwe, which prompted the UK prime minister to stay away from the 8–9 December summit in Lisbon, Portugal. But more notably, the European Union (EU) failed to convince African countries to accept new “free trade” accords.
Summarizing the African viewpoint, Alpha Oumar Konaré, chair of the Commission of the African Union, the continent’s political organization, affirmed that Africa wants to participate in the global economy, including through expanded trade, “but with new rules.”
The EU had originally pushed to negotiate the new accords, known as Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), by the end of December 2007, to comply with a deadline by the World Trade Organization to phase out preferential aid and trade pacts that Europe had maintained for some 30 years with its former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP). Since a majority of the 78 ACP countries are in Africa, the Lisbon summit was seen as an important step towards securing wider agreement.
But leading up to the year-end deadline, opposition to the EPAs by African governments, business groups and civil society organizations mounted (see Africa Renewal, July 2007). As proposed by the EU, the EPAs would have required ACP countries to liberalize most of their trade with the region in order to gain duty-free access to European markets. This would have allowed them to use tariffs to protect only a small portion of their own markets.
Noting that African industries are not yet able to compete with European products — some of which are heavily subsidized — Senegalese economist Moustapha Kassé warned on the eve of the Lisbon summit that the EPAs, if adopted, could lead to the “systematic dismantling of local production systems” and reduce African economies to little more than “bazaars.”
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade publicly declared several weeks before the summit that if he had to choose between more financial aid and protecting domestic industries from “destructive competition,” he would choose protection. Moreover, he argued, an abrupt liberalization of African trade could in the short-run reduce African budgetary receipts by 35–70 per cent, since they are heavily dependent on tariff revenues. At the summit, he accused the EU of trying to impose “a straitjacket that does not work.”
African leaders were also critical of the EU’s bargaining methods. Rather than negotiating a new arrangement with the ACP group as a whole, EU officials sought separate deals with six different blocs — the Caribbean, Pacific and four sub-regions of Africa. Then when it seemed that none of those regional blocs would approve the EPAs, the EU pressed individual countries to sign “interim” trade agreements — or face a major hike in European tariffs against their goods at the start of the new year. By the time of the summit, 13 African countries had signed such interim arrangements. In Lisbon, Mr. Konaré criticized efforts to play African regions against each other and to “force” agreement on individual countries.
By the end of the summit, EU officials acknowledged that the original negotiating deadline would not be met. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, agreed that talks “will require time” and hoped to resume discussions on the EPAs in February. Such a willingness by European leaders to discuss Africa’s concerns, some observers pointed out, would be in the spirit of the summit’s Lisbon Declaration, which promised the development of a “partnership of equals” between the two regions.