Thursday, April 28, 2011

Literacy as a Source of Ignorance

A review of a film entitled 'Shame in the time of cholera' mentions, as so many articles do, the role of illiteracy in such epidemics and how high levels of illiteracy make it difficult to disseminate information on how to avoid cholera.

High levels of illiteracy are a disgrace in the 21st century and make efforts to improve health conditions very difficult. But it is worth comparing illiteracy in poor areas with the sort of priorities rich and powerful people make about the health of those in poor areas.

Telling people to wash their hands, keep their houses clean, be careful about sanitation and personal hygiene, etc, is like a sick joke when there is little or no access to clean water or basic sanitation facilities (I'm not criticizing the film maker or the reviewer here).

And there may well be all sorts of stories about cholera coming from the wind, witchcraft, miasmas, etc, but there is also the story about cholera epidemics being prevented by drugs and technology and other great human feats.

But are people supposed to take these drugs and use these technologies in the absence of improvements in water, hygiene and sanitation? If so, the exercise will fail. Cholera and other water borne conditions were eradicated in Western countries, not by drugs, but by clean water, modern water infrastructures and sanitation facilities.

Some people and insititutions seem to think that they can pick out a few diseases, such as cholera and polio, and produce vaccines for them. They think that distributing these drugs far and wide will reduce morbidity and mortality, but they are wrong.

People treated for a handful of diseases will simply suffer from, and some will die from, other water borne diseases unless the whole issue of water and sanitation is addressed (and, of course, nutrition, health in general, education, social services, etc).

A name (of a person and an institution) that springs to mind is Gates. Bill has put a small amount of money into water and sanitation projects, but the main thrust of his spending is on vaccines. He even boasts about this.

His wife has talked abut how much we can learn from Coca Cola, because they have a distribution system for their destructive product. I know Coca Cola like to wave their products about in famine and drought areas, but people don't need bottled water, which wastes far more water than it produces. They need a sustainable supply of clean water, unlike what those living in Kerala and other parts of India experienced when they happened to be close to a Coke factory.

Myths are not exclusive to poor, undereducated people suffering from bad health. The sort of myths emanating from Gates (the people and the foundation) are far more harmful, because the media, that great purveyor of myths, blasts them around the world, and so many powerful people seem anxious to repeat myths from the powerful Gateses.

Drugs, scientific breakthroughs, technology and things that the likes of Gates are interested in are not a priority; clean water and sanitation, along with basic health and education are priorities. This is not new, but the message doesn't seem to have reached the literate.


1 comment:

Simon said...

88 low tech projects get funding:

But this high tech one gets as much as the whole 88 low tech ones together: