Classic Conundrum: How to Help the Poorest of the Poor?
In Africa, one in twenty children die of malaria before their fifth birthday. This is about equal to seven Boeing 747s crashing every day. An even greater number of kids are dying of respiratory and diarrheal disease. Technology in the form of medicines and vaccines can help, but companies only develop technology in the right financial and legal atmosphere - are the appropriate patent or taxation laws in place there to reward the inventor? And even assuming they are, still further down the line are the political questions such as, who will pay to distribute the medicine or vaccine when it is invented? Should Canada help to pay with its foreign aid?
These are tough questions and ones that Canada Research Chair Amir Attaran is trying to find ways to answer. Ultimately these research questions boil down to one simple-sounding, but historically overwhelming conundrum: How can technology, governments, and companies contribute toward improving the health, wealth, and well-being of the world's poorest people?
International development is full of such complex questions, and often the solutions depend on how you look at the problems. In the case of children's survival, for instance, it becomes clear that disease is just the agent of the children's deaths, it is the policies, when counterproductive, which are the cause.
Get the policies right, and much can be done to help the billion people who live on a dollar a day. But get the policies wrong, and lives, money, and even our humanity are lost. Attaran's research efforts are aimed at learning and teaching, in the widest possible way, how to get it right.