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Unicef, CIDA, kids, malaria

UNICEF of Halloween fame selling bednets to the poor

By Judi McLeod

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In the Jack-O-Lantern season, little children make millions of dollars for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Last year alone, trick-and-treaters in the US brought in $5 million in UNICEF donations, establishing a record.

Knocking on Halloween doors for UNICEF is a 55-year-old tradition that took its inspiration from a parish priest in Philadelphia.

Nowadays UNICEF doesn't have to wait to cash in from the boxes carried door to door by little ghosts and goblins. UNICEF does not collect door-to-door in Canada anymore, but does in the U.S., and reminds us that you can always donate online.

Going back to Philadelphia's first Halloween children's crusade: "The change collected that day has resulted in a national education and fundraising campaign across the U.S. that has improved the lives of millions of children around the world," boasts UNICEF.

That's unless you're one of the 2,700 children who die from malaria in Africa each day.

The same UN agency that enjoys the high Halloween profile is the one that last February received $9 million from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to buy bednets for Ethiopia to protect children in poor families from malaria--only to turn around and sell them.

And the sad story of UNICEF exploiting the poor doesn't stop there.

The $9 million grant sounds generous on the face of it, until you consider that CIDA appears to be abandoning an earlier, $26 million bednet program led by the Canadian Red Cross.

"As a biologist and lawyer who studies the problems of the world's poorest people, I have watched the politics and science of malaria programs for a decade," wrote Dr. Amir Attaran in the Ottawa Citizen. "Never have I found a bednet program that is as efficient as saving children's lives as that of the Canadian Red Cross. The reason for their success is simple: unlike UNICEF, which in Ethiopia intends to sell bednets to families whose household income is often only a dollar a day, the Canadian Red Cross gives them away free."

"This is really true: UNICEF's elite, highly paid, tax-exempt staff have turned humanitarianism into a business of selling things to people who have no money," Dr. Attaran wrote. "Predictably, it doesn't work. Five years after spearheading a campaign to put 60% of Africa's children under properly treated bednets, UNICEF had to admit that only 3% of African children are covered.

"Now compare that to the Canadian Red Cross, which in Togo cleverly linked its bednet giveaway to pediatric health services. In one tightly choreographed week--not 5 years--the Red Cross distributed 900,000 bednets, enough for 100% of Togo's children under 5.

"With such breathtaking results," says Dr. Attaran who is Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy at the University of Ottawa, "you might imagine CIDA would be eager to continue, and even expand, the Canadian Red Cross' funding before their final bednet giveaway in Sierra Leone next month.

"But you would be wrong. In far more than just malaria, CIDA's management is so consumed in processes and in reacting to the latest trends in international aid that evaluating results is subordinate. This disconnect is so profound that CIDA sometimes overlooks even huge successes, as in Togo.

"CIDA's torpor to what works seems almost total. Last month, the World Health Organization decided that it had been wrong to let politics squeeze a famous insecticide, DDT, out of malaria control programs. Courageously, WHO admitted its error and called for DDT's return. I started the global campaign eight years ago that led WHO to reinstate DDT, and though unpopular, I did so because scientifically and ethically it is a no-brainer.

"As WHO recommends, DDT is sprayed on the insides of homes only. It therefore causes no harm to the outside environment, as it protects a home's inhabitants from malaria-carrying mosquitoes for up to a year at a time. Where DDT works (it is not the right choice for everywhere) it is spectacularly effective. With DDT and the right medicines, South Africa beat back malaria cases 89% in one year, and deaths 97% in four years."

After the incontrovertible proof of 97% fewer dead women and children, even former opponents Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, now agree DDT may be used for malaria control.

For the record, CIDA says it is "very interested in better understanding how the WHO's new policy can be best operationalized".

"But when the WHO's tireless malaria chief, Dr. Arata Kochi, came to town pleading for funds to make DDT spraying operational, CIDA sent him away penniless," notes Dr. Attaran.

This is a story that belies the pretty picture of childhood innocence at Halloween. And it's a true story that should shame the Canadian government into taking action.

Meanwhile, how tragically ironic that UNICEF, which uses armies of children as foot soldiers on Halloween, is the same agency that sells bednets to desperate families whose household income is often less than a dollar a day.

If the parents of tonight's little ghosts and goblins only knew.

Canada Free Press founding editor Most recent by Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on, Drudge Report,, Glenn Beck. Judi can be reached at:

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