President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget continues to put aside money for malaria prevention worldwide in the battle to help the 3 billion people at risk from the disease. Much of this money goes to sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 90 percent of all fatalities from Malaria. However, with responsible economic policies implemented by African governments, part of the $1.35 billion set aside for malaria preventions and protection in Africa could be better spent elsewhere.
One of these good policies would be free trade. According to a new report from the European Commission, nearly 30 countries on the continent still maintain tariffs on mosquito nets of up to 20 percent. These nets cover beds and help prevent the spread of malaria during the night. Due in part to the help of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, malaria incidence has fallen by nearly 50 percent in the most affected sub-Saharan Africa countries. However, high tariffs rates on these items make it more expensive for individuals to buy mosquito nets and protect themselves and their families from the disease.
The simple solution to this problem is to lower tariffs and open markets, lowering the cost and increasing the supply of this life-saving device. According to the European Commission’s estimate:
Removing tariffs ranging between 5%-30% on mosquito nets in the six African countries…would lead to an increase in imports of around $300,000.
Considering that one mosquito net costs around $6 and each household can use one net for every two children, free trade could potentially shield 100,000 additional children from this deadly disease.
To realize such a benefit from a simple and cost-effective policy change is not surprising. A report by The Heritage Foundation found that economic freedom, including free trade, leads to better livelihoods and health outcomes throughout the world.
A 20 percent tax on mosquito nets is not the way to prevent malaria on the continent where the disease is most prevalent. Lining children’s rooms with mosquito nets is much more beneficial than lining the pockets of bureaucrats and politically protected businesses, and free trade can help.