Monday, August 29, 2011

Farms versus Mosquitos

When you read/watch/listen to the news, you see a lot of stories about dramatic deaths.  Deaths in war.  Deaths from hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis.  Death by murder.
But for a lot of people in the world, death will come in the form of something quite small and non-dramatic.  Like a mosquito that bites them while they are asleep.  Or a cup of water that will give them dysentery.
Most of us will die a very common death.  The sad part is that so many of these deaths are preventable.  For example, 80% of deaths from cholera can be prevented by using Oral Rehydration Salts.

A look at the World Health Organization's Millennium Development Goals is revealing.  The Goals include:  helping underweight children, child health, immunizations, maternal and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, tuberculosis, water and sanitation, and essential medicines.

To put it simply, clean water, food, mosquito nets for beds, and condoms can save a lot of lives.  These aren't high technology; they are more on the order of basic necessities.

The website for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows a lot of the same issues.  Their Global Health list includes diarrhea, family planning, HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal newborn and child health, nutrition, pneumonia and flu, polio, tuberculosis, tobacco, and vaccines.  These are all worthy of serious attention, and I would add alcohol and drug use to the list.  Of particular interest is the Gates Foundation emphasis on small farms.  I think this is very smart--individual farms are what built most of the developed countries.

Sometimes I've heard the argument from people that there isn't much that can be done about a lot of the senseless deaths in this world, and I've always found that a negative, quitter's type of attitude.  So many of these problems can be tackled successfully.

For instance, in 1988 polio was found in 125 countries, but by 2008 the number of countries with polio epidemics had dropped to four.  And the number of polio cases worldwide has dropped 99%.  This is incredible progress.

So don't let the news you hear depress you.  Yes, there are people suffering.  But there are also people working hard to alleviate that suffering.  And you can be one of them.

(World Health Organization site here.  Gates Foundation here.  The idealized Currier and Ives farm painting is from:


  1. A good read on a historical epidemic is The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby.

    Yellow fever basically decimated Memphis, TN in 1878 (over 100,000 deaths in one year). It took 3 doctors (one of whom was Walter Reed) studying the disease in Cuba to figure out how it was spread. It took MANY years for them to understand the disease before being able to recommend how to prevent it. Yellow Fever is still around killing people today, but we are wiser on how we deal with it: mosquito nets and good nutrition.

  2. Timely article, as usual, as just last week I read an article saying that the malaria mosquito is disappearing in Africa, even in areas where there are no mosquito controls in place.

    Scientists do not know why.

    Me, I say, "Good riddance!"


  3. Shannon, I didn't know Walter Reed worked on the yellow fever problem. I had read that for British officers stationed in the Carribean in the 1700s, the death rate was so high it was considered a sort of death sentence.

    Patrick, I checked out the article in your link and wondered if the drought conditions in sub-Saharan Africa the last few years may have taken away the mosquito breeding grounds. The decreasing number of mosquitos found in their sample traps was amazing.

  4. so true.. deaths are not always cause due to natural calamities or due to diseases, death can take place any how and these are not preventable.