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Published: Thursday, 4/14/2005

A new African menace

ONCE again Africans are being stalked by a horrible disease, far beyond the capacity of their woeful health-care systems to manage.

The Marburg virus, a hemorrhagic killer, has already claimed some 200 lives in Angola. There is no preventive vaccine, nor any cure. It kills approximately 90 percent of those who fall ill to it. It is extremely contagious, capable of being transmitted by any body fluid, including breath particles.

The city of Uige in the north of the south-central African nation of Angola seems to be the center of the epidemic for now, although cases of Marburg are now suspected in seven of Angola's 18 provinces, and neighboring countries are on the alert. Marburg is said to have a higher mortality rate than Ebola, which has appeared on at least two occasions in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why these two countries? Both have totally collapsed health-care systems, for comparable reasons. Both Angola and the DRC have suffered from years of conflict that have resulted in the almost total destruction of their clinics, hospitals, and other health infrastructure.

Both Angola and the DRC also have suffered for many years from kleptocratic leadership that has provided no resources for health care and institutions while living the gilded life. Angola is telling the world it has no money to deal with the Marburg epidemic while its very substantial oil resources continue to pour into the hands of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, his family, and associates.

The world is put into a bind by such misgovernance. It is not possible to say the Angolan people need to act to bring about a reallocation of Angola's oil revenues to deal with problems such as Marburg. They are for the most part helpless, and victims to disease and hunger.

Another aspect of the matter is that, given the extreme contagiousness of Marburg, there is also the nightmare risk of its being exported from Angola elsewhere.

It might be worth asking the U.S. and other petroleum companies that pump and market Angolan oil, including substantial quantities to the United States, to come up with the estimated $3.5 million needed to fight the disease before more Angolans die its horrible death.



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