Collateral damage from magic bullets

In an earlier post I noted Norman Borlaug’s receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. In comments, Bernarda noted those who disagree with the claim that Borlaug’s Green Revolution was much of a benefit, or perhaps more accurately, those who note the problems that result from such advances — and there are many. Bernarda pointed to a BBC lecture from Vendana Shiva, detailing the problems that Punjab experienced as a result of governmental and society structures unable to deal with the changes required by high-yield crops: “Poverty and Globalisation.” It’s worth a read or a listen.
Similarly, in another BBC lecture in that series, Gro Harlem Bruntland details problems from “progress” that includes cutting the forests, in “Health and Population.” Relevant to other discussions here, she notes a rise in malaria due to deforestation, raising an issue that the junk science purveyors opposed to Rachel Carson’s honoring would like to ignore. Here is a small excerpt of her talk — note that deforestation is not a problem that more DDT can solve:

Gro Harlem Bruntland:  Recently, in Mozambique, I saw children with their eyes glazed with fever from a malaria that could have been prevented if their parents could afford bed nets. Deforestation had changed malaria from a nuisance to a curse in a matter of twenty years. 

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Wikiquote image.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO). Wikiquote image.

More people are suffering from this killing and debilitating disease now than ever before, and deforestation, climate change and breakdowns in health services have caused the disease to spread to new areas and areas that have been malaria-free for decades, like in Europe.

In the Philippines, I have watched how beggars sit exhausted on the pavements convulsed with coughing. Tuberculosis, which we long believed had been brought under control by effective treatment, is on the rise again. Increasingly, we see forms of tuberculosis which are resistant to all but a very expensive cocktail of drugs.

I think that HIV/AIDS may be the most serious threat to face sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions. space. Already, the AIDS epidemic is the leading cause of death in several African countries. AIDS has reversed the increases in life expectancy we have seen over the past thirty years. The social and economic devastation in countries that could lose a fifth of their productive populations is heart-rending.

I believe we are facing this alarming situation largely because of an outdated approach to development. Our theories have to catch up with what our ears and eyes are telling us – and fast.

There was a period in development thinking – not so long ago – when spending on public services, such as health and education, would have to wait. Good health was a luxury, only to be achieved when countries had developed a particular level of physical infrastructure and established a certain economic strength. The implicit assumption was that health was to do with consumption. Experience and research over the past few years have shown that such thinking was at best simplistic, and at worst plainly wrong.

I maintain that if people’s health improves, they make a real contribution to their nation’s prosperity. In my judgement, good health is not only an important concern for individuals, it plays a central role in achieving sustainable economic growth and an effective use of resources.

As in Europe at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, we have seen that developing countries which invest relatively more, and well, on health are likely to achieve higher economic growth.

In other words, malaria prevention grows on trees, or malaria grows with the cutting of trees.

One Response to Collateral damage from magic bullets

  1. bernarda says:

    Here is a site not too far from your neighborhood I think that may interest you.

    It gives a different look at global agricultural and argues for sustainable practices.

    It also has a Prairie Festival 2007.

    This is another site I have had for a long time which I had forgotten about. And still another I had forgotten. The following has a game and other stuff about world food problems of interest to students. WFP Foodforce sponsored by the United Nations World Food Program.


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