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Friday, August 10, 2007

Dr. Beetroot and the Great AIDS Denial

The long-term impact of the epidemic is almost incalculable. The country has 1.2 million Aids orphans. A generation of women is being lost. Teachers are dying at the rate of 14 a week; child mortality rates in some areas have trebled in the past 15 years. And life expectancy, because of Aids, has fallen to around 47 years. "This is medieval," said Dr Alan Whiteside of Kwa-Zulu Natal University in Durban. "Why are we not shouting it from the rooftops?"
South Africa yesterday fired their deputy health minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was the only government official critical of the country's bizarre AIDS policy. See, South African president Thabo Mbeki and health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang don't believe HIV causes AIDS. Yes, you read that correct. Their whole nation is suffering from a plague that makes apartheid look like a Tahitian vacation, and these two see no correlation between the two diseases, twenty years of solid public health history notwithstanding. Meanwhile, 1,400 new people are infected with HIV every day in South Africa.

What do Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang think their countrymen should do? Why, imbibe potions created by local medicine men of course! The New Yorker did a great piece on this story in March if you can find it. Truly, this is one of those profoundly African tragedies which even Shakespeare would find too unbelievable for words. I can understand the reluctance of African leaders to trust Western medicine but, as the New Yorker article points out, they don't take sweet potatoes for heart disease.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa will be a World War II like event for the continent. The death toll will end up in the millions. Denying the science behind disease prevention will only cause history to leave the destruction of this continent onto Africa's own doorstep. They will not be able to blame colonialism or prejudice.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Oil is a curse...

Those are the words of an African expert on the effects oil will have on that continent Right now, the economies of sub-Saharan Africa are growing, which is a good thing. But these economies are all sucking on the teat of Big Oil, whose affinities have proven to be disastrously fickle. We all know of the paradise Big Oil has created in the Middle East. In a grander perspective, the after-effects of oil-based capitalism has accelerated man-made climate change. All of this makes me wonder, is oil some natural plague?

Can anyone think of one good thing oil has brought humanity? Yes, besides endowing the Clampetts' with their fortune. Sitting here I can't think of one. I own a car, bought gas just today. I am certainly as addicted as to oil as the next American. My livelihood depends on it, no matter how much I ride my bike or use public transportation. The guilt I feel about this, though, has began to subside with the dawning realization that oil is some kind of natural curse. Like the Ark was a supernatural forbidden for Dr. Jones, maybe oil is that same thing for humans? Would our lives be so much more awful without it? We all know the unstoppable force that is capitalism. I have no doubt without oil we would have created some other means for our industrial rise.

I feel as if we are on the precipice of disaster. Yesterday's events remind me that maybe you never know what a disaster is until it is really happening to you. In that case, I hope that soon we realize the grave portents from our dependency on oil and stretch our capacity to survive beyond that of our lifetime. Tonight, this is my most heartfelt wish.