The death count for Ebola did eventually hit 11,310 globally, and Swine Flu resulted in 18,500 lab-confirmed deaths (and potentially many more). However, most of these outbreaks were relatively harmless in relative terms. The Zika Virus, for example, resulted in only a handful of deaths.
The figures below show the relative intensity of media coverage of specific disease outbreaks versus the actual number of deaths:
This is from a story in Kenya’s Standard Newspaper:
Martin Wepukhulu is a small-holder farmer in Trans Nzoia County, popularly described as Kenya’s breadbasket. To produce a two-kilogramme tin of maize known as gorogoro here, he spends about Sh25 on land preparation, seeds and fertilisers on his one-acre farm.
Some 270 kilometre away in Turkana County, one of Kenya’s poorest counties, is Loseny Nguono, a goat keeper, with two wives and 13 children. Turkana is one of the 23 counties affected by drought which has left close to 4 million people in danger of starvation.
Loseny receives Sh8,000 after every two months from the national government through the national safety net programme. He is willing to pay Martin a decent Sh70 for his gorogoro of maize. Unfortunately, neither Martin nor Loseny will get his wish. A reclusive government, ruthless cartels, dilapidated roads and marauding bandits conspire to ensure that while Martin sells his cereals at a low of Sh40, Loseny buys it at a high of Sh150.
It is great that Loseny has cash; and that unconditional cash transfers for social protection are increasingly becoming a mainstream policy option (notice that the story doesn’t even acknowledge the awesomeness of this reality). But the other lesson that we can learn from the story is that in order to get Loseny out of poverty we need good roads, properly functioning markets, and security. All these are public goods that must be provided through collective action, above and beyond the improvements in Loseny’s private consumption.
This weekend the Stanford Student Forum for African Studies is hosting a conference on health and governance in sub-Saharan Africa. If you are in the bay area feel free to show up for any of the panel discussions.
If anyone knows anyone important in the ministry of health and medical services please let them know that the x-ray division at the Siaya district hospital is not even trying – especially the bespectacled guy who apparently recently went on a trip overseas (I know this because he spent like two hours total chatting with random visitors about it). While visiting the hospital I saw what patients at the hospital have to go through on a daily basis. There was the woman who had come in for two days straight to get a dental x-ray. The previous day the x-ray guy sent her home because he had to leave after a three hour lunch break. The next morning when she returned she was made to wait for more than two hours because the said guy had to help out a nurse’s pregnant friend who wanted to have an ultra sound done. The most annoying bit of it all is that the waiting area is right outside the guy’s office and so we could hear all their conversations. The said guy then took another hour doing some paperwork and chatting with friends who popped in about every fifteen minutes. Je, huu ni ungwana???
I obviously got annoyed by all this and in my naivety dialed the hospital hotline which is listed under the poster with the costs of all the x-rays outside the doctor’s office. The lady on the other side casually told me that they would take care of the delay and backlog with the x-rays and immediately hung up. Nothing was done. And to imagine that these guys live on taxpayers’ money. I have contacted Mr. Anyang’ Nyong’o himself and I am still waiting to hear from him (Mr. Nyong’o is very good with email, the only other time I wrote him he wrote back within a week).