In his Jan. 26 review of the NBC documentary, "Hunger and Hope: The Other Side of Africa," Phil McCombs quotes the NBC reporter as saying that the United States is less interested in the fate of famine victims in Mali than in Ethiopia, where "high- profile efforts may pay off in the global struggle with the Soviet Union."

The remark should not go unchallenged. Not only is it a cheap shot; it is untrue. The United States is seriously concerned with the drought throughout Africa and is making an unprecedented effort to meet emergency food needs in the Sahel as well as in other parts of the continent.

The United States is the largest food-aid donor to Africa, providing as much aid as other donors combined. Total U.S. emergency food aid to Africa has increased by 60 percent over the past year, and by the end of this year will most likely be 200 percent greater than last year. Including food aid committed and requested by Congress, the United States will supply half of Africa's estimated emergency food needs this fiscal year, some 1.5 million metric tons of food, raising the total of our famine assistance to Africa this fiscal year to more than $1 billion and 1.8 million metric tons of food. As of January, we had committed since Oct. 1, 1984, more than $125 million in famine assistance to Ethiopia. That figure includes some 230,000 metric tons of food.

In Mali, the United States has taken the lead in providing emergency food aid. We have already approved 54,000 metric tons in emergency food in FY 1985, nearly half the amount committed for Mali from the entire international donor community. In addition, we have provided medicines and medical personnel from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta in response to the cholera epidemic in Gao, and we are providing measles vaccine following a request from the government of Mali. The United States has made a long-term commitment to assist Mali in its development efforts and to provide emergency food assistance in response to periodic drought.

Over the past 10 years, Mali, with an estimated population of 7 million, has received from the United States nearly $200 million in development assistance and emergency food aid.