Thursday, June 28, 2007

Malaria eradication

The World Health Organization has stated that its’ goal is to reduce the numbers of deaths from malaria by half by 2010 through its Global Malaria Programme. More than 1 million people die of Malaria every year, disproportionately affecting pregnant women and children under 5.
That seems like a noble goal: to reduce the number of deaths and I think all people would agree that we should reduce the number of deaths from a preventable and curable disease that is transmitted by mosquitoes that carry the plasmodium parasite in their guts. But why would we not set as our goal the world wide eradication of malaria?

In the US we adopted a policy of ERADICATION. We didn’t accept that this preventable and curable disease should just be controlled; we set out to eradicate it.
In 1947 in the US the National Malaria Eradication Program set out to completely eliminate malaria as a cooperative effort between state agencies and the CDC, (not coincidently HQ’d in Atlanta).

In 1947 there were 15,000 documented cases of malaria in the US, by 1951 malaria was considered eradicated. Europe was declared malaria free in the 60’s.

Why do we accept 1 million deaths a year from a preventable disease? Why do we set our goal to make it only 500,000 deaths? We already know how to prevent all of these deaths, we have done it in the US and Europe and been technically free from malaria for over 50 years.

Some people think the reason that more people don’t die in the US from malaria is because of our superior health care, and there is no question that if you ARE infected, the US is one of the best places to seek care—but the reason we are free of endemic malarial infection is superior prevention policy. We don’t allow the vector mosquitoes to transmit the virus in the first place, it’s the old “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In 1949 we sprayed over 4,650,000 private residences, we drain standing water, we implemented all sorts of efforts to eliminate the habitats where these mosquitoes breed. We can do it anywhere in the world, but we have to make it our goal. We cannot just accept that 1 million people should die and the best we can do is to reduce that number. We do not accept it in the US, malaria has been eradicated in the US for over 50 years.
In 2002 exactly 8 people died of malaria in the US. 1,337 cases were reported and of those cases ALL of them were imported from malaria-endemic countries. This is a problem that we can fix.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Conspicuous consumption

I read an article/interview this weekend about the founder of “Treehugger.com,” Graham Hill and I was struck by how consumption had become a high art, an almost religious adherence to “eco-friendly” consumption rituals. It is a triumph of style over substance.
The article was a fawning account of a typical “day in the life” of an “eco-warrior.”
Included were all the mundane details, from sipping his “fair trade” coffee to properly using the restroom---repeat this mantra: “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”
His website, Treehugger.com is chock full of ideas on how to “green” your life. As far as I can tell--- at the end of the day it is best accomplished by purchasing and using “green” products, which works out nicely if you are hawking space to advertisers that want to target this affluent and guilt ridden bunch of city dwelling, nature worshippers.
At the end of the day, what is Graham's great contribution to society—what qualifies Graham to teach everyone how to “go green”? Among other things, he designed a coffee cup a few years ago! Well, not really a unique design…he made a ceramic version of the popular paper disposable cup. But now he spends his time pursuing social entrepreneurship, encouraging sustainability, buzzword buzzword buzzword…. And when he is not hawking his nifty knock off coffee cup, he spends his time brainstorming ways to get people from thinking to doing. I know, let that marinate for a moment—it’s really eco-deep.
I don’t know why I reflexively find this eco-preening so off-putting; I’m sure it’s proof of one of my many character flaws.
I have nothing against trying to “save the planet,” I just think that our time and efforts might be better spent saving lives, or helping others, or addressing famine, pestilence, hunger, or providing clean drinking water and shelter for the neediest among us.
In the time it took to read this, (if anyone bothered) 2 or 3 more African children died of malaria. Why? If you track back far enough, an American environmentalist wrote a fictionalized book about the effects of DDT on the food chain and successfully lobbied the US gov’t to prevent companies from using DDT to kill mosquitoes. Of course, American children aren’t dying of malaria from mosquitoes because we used DDT to kill all the mosquitoes and we continue to use pesticides to kill mosquitoes, but our recommendation for Africa? Put up a net while you sleep and hope they don’t bite you. (the nets are about 10 bucks each--or roughly 2 weeks salary)
But all the eco-warriors can sleep soundly, knowing that they are saving the planet by buying their vegetables from farmers' markets, drinking fair trade coffee from $12 dollar ceramic cups, wearing $215 dollar organic jeans and washing their hair with $20 dollar eco-friendly shampoo.
For what it’s worth the yearly per capita income in Uganda is $250.00, just about enough to buy a couple of coffee mugs, some shampoo and some overpriced jeans. In fact, the bottom 10 least developed countries all have a per capita yearly income under $300.00 US a year.
I bet Graham Hill is one of the coolest guys you could ever meet, and that treehugger.com is a worthy and noble effort, but I can’t help but wonder if this is all an eco-sham, like the pet rocks of the 70s---we have let marketers and advertisers convince us that some products have a hidden intangible value, not because they are better or less expensive, but because they are “greener” and we pay that premium for that intangible greenness, even though we could have just bought the cheap shampoo for $1.50 and given the $18.50 that we saved to charity, I bet there is a family in Uganda that could use the money.