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Something to Be Thankful For

The Boston Globe reports that many African countries have sharply reduced the deaths of young children in recent years, belying the notion that the continent was making little progress against killer diseases:

Across sub-Saharan Africa, the mortality rates for children under age 5 in some countries have decreased by as much as 30 percent in the past five years because of increases in immunization and the use of vitamin A supplements and oral rehydration therapy; a rise in the number of women seeking prenatal care; and the end of regional conflicts, according to child-health specialists.

There is no question that Africa continues to face a number of challenges and this bit of good news does not, by itself, outweigh the enormous suffering that many people living in the continent have to deal with. But is also important to celebrate small victories. There seems to be a growing pessimism that "nothing works" when it comes to intractable social problems. But it seems clear that a combination of public and private efforts are having a measurable effect.

I wonder if this sheds any light on the somewhat heated debate we have been having both here and at Mirror of Justice about whether "liberals" or "conservatives" are more generous toward the poor. This seems to have become a debate about whether private charity or public provision is a better approach to relieving poverty. But surely we need both. Those who would disparage either government or private charity in the struggle against human suffering are like a boxer heading into the ring with one arm tied behind his back.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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Peter Nixon is clearly right in saying that both public and private contributions are necessary to address poverty. Today, our country's response to poverty is far too weak. Programs funded by both public and private agencies need greatteer support. And of course, the needs of the poor in other parts of the world are remain even greater than the needs of the poor people in our midst.

Peter's poignant commentary reminds me of another public health "small victory" involving partnership between the public/private sectors that is worth celebrating.In sub-Saharan Africa and some countries in Central and South America, there is a black fly-caused disease known as "river blindness" ("onchocerciasis" for the Gray's Anatomy crowd). The flies deposit a parasitic worm under the skin that can cause a great deal of skin damage, but most devastating is when the worms migrate to the victims' corneas and cause blindness. The disease is especially prevalent along fast-flowing rivers, which of course often pass through the most arable land. The disease has afflicted millions, and it has often forced inhabitants along the rivers to move away to less arable locations. Family members not infected with the disease have often been forced to curtail their farming to care for afflicted relatives. Merck developed a drug, Mectizan, that kills the parasitic worms during a certain stage in their life cycle (they can live for up to 15 years in a host). Given once to twice a year to people--yep, just two tablets a year!--in affected areas, Mectizan has been very effective in reducing the incidence of the disease. For almost 20 years, Merck has made Mectizan available free of charge. Many organizations--for example, the World Bank and The Carter Center--have joined Merck in a partnership seeking to eradicate river blindness. Money has come from both private and public sources, and an effective management and delivery structure has been created to get the medicine to those who need it. Efforts have also been ongoing to eradicate the black flies themselves. Eradication and treatment have opened up the river-bathed lands to farming again, and these efforts have measurably increased economic productivity. It's not a perfect system or a perfect partnership, but on the whole it seems to be working effectively. There is a wide mix of what might be termed both liberal and conservative input, all focused on the common goal of eradication. And the effort is not all altruistic. Merck and others of course use their involvement for p.r. purposes, and the partnership is aware, as it puts it, that "the spreading of credit around liberally is essential for maintaining broad-based commitment." But does it really matter what the motivation of the donors is? Having had first-hand experience with Third World relief projects, I can attest that the recipients of aid do not care one iota if the donors are righties or lefties in their political philosophies or where the aid came from. At the delivery end, It's not so much the thought that counts in poverty or disease alleviation, it's the $$$ and the infrastructure that make alleviation programs successful.

This is very encouraging news on a serious blight of our times. Hopefully, our ranting over this has gotten some attention. I understand many evangelicals are doing good work here. They can only have our good wishes and gratitude.Tell me it is not abominable that Christians should be more enthusiastice about a "shock and awe" campaign that kills the innocents than efforts to help the needy and downtrodden. How forcefully the judgement of Matt25,36-41 will come.

Thanks again Peter for wonderful news. Here is more of the same. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/23/nyregion/23york.html?_r=1&oref=sloginS... that God is active among us and not necessarily by those who talk about Her all the time.