But here's the good news: this is easy to do. It doesn't require huge investments in complex antiretrovirals, controversies over sexual abstinence, negotiations with drug companies, etc. It's just sitting there.
The technology is relatively simple: insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, better insulated door and windows, and anti-malarial drugs (which are quite inexpensive). As Jeffrey Sachs and his colleagues at the Columbia University Earth Institute demonstrate in a (relatively) recent paper, this would cost about $3 billion a year--0.3% of the projected stimulus package.
All of the bednets, insecticides, drugs and home fixtures could be manufactured in the United States, and could be done pretty quickly, making it a perfect candidate for the stimulus.
So it could help our economy and the economies of the nations in Africa, reduce poverty, and save lives, all the while being relatively cheap? It almost sounds too good to be true.
I'm aware that there's a fairly big debate over the need of various aid projects directed towards desperately poor countries. I also acknowledge that a lot of progress could be made by simply expanding economic opportunities through trade. I may not be up on the most recent literature enough to give a qualified guess as to whether this would work--this is yet another instance of a topic I find fascinating and have some good starting points in mind as far as books--but this seems like something that is worth trying even if it's only mildly successful.
I'd be interested in reading the downsides to it. If there's some research that say this is a well-intentioned waste of money, I'd like to see it. But if there's even a small chance it could work, it should be tried.
Let's hope someone has the ear of President-Elect Obama and will inform him of such interesting, worthwhile options.