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Malaria Hits Mozambican Economy, Clogs Hospitals

Original Article - African Eye News Service

DATELINE: April 25, 2000

BYLINE: by Charles Mangwiro & Justin Arenstein

Maputo (Mozambique) - At least 60% of all Mozambicans seeking medical treatment suffer from malaria and an estimated 40% of the country's hospital beds are occupied by malaria victims, said the country's health minister, Francisco Songane, on Wednesday night.

Describing the statistics as the worst in southern Africa and possibly the world, Songane said malaria was beginning to have a serious affect on Mozambique's economy. "The problem is that victims have to remain in hospital for at least three days even after treatment, clogging up the health system and staying away from work," he said.

A significant percentage of victims are, he added, Mozambique's economically active citizens and farmers.

Farmers simply could not afford to take ill, as their lands stood fallow if the planting season was missed. The Mozambican government and World Bank have meanwhile forecast a significant slowdown in economic growth as a result of February's devastating floods, the United Nations information service, IRIN, reports.

IRIN said on Tuesday that humanitarian agencies still needed more emergency assistance to help people cope with the disaster.

Mozambican finance minister Luisa Biogo has already cut GDP growth projections from more than 8% to 6%, and said inflation would accelerate from 5.5% in 1999 to around 10%. The World Bank anticipates GDP growth to drop to 5% percent. Preliminary estimates of flood damage and related costs currently stands at US$1 billion, with more than two- thirds of the country's population still living below the poverty line partly as a result of the previous decade of civil war.

The widespread flooding, which destroyed homes and farms and washed away infrastructure has, IRIN said, served to deepen poverty. The government's Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, presented to the International Monetary Fund in February, has been outdated by the floods.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that confirmed donor pledges for its emergency operation only cover 35% of its US$36 million appeal. IRIN reports that donors appear to be waiting for the May 2 Rome conference on Mozambique, but by May the food pipeline to feed 597,000 people would be under strain.

The time taken from pledges being made to actual food arriving in Mozambique could take between one and four months, while the withdrawal of foreign military assistance has resulted in a reduction of WFP aid flights.

Fewer that 30 aircraft are in operation, which WFP funding can only sustain until the end of this month. Road transportation is not yet a viable option as "the road network is in no condition to deliver food to isolated areas."

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