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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Reading this article about US Senate majority leader Harry Reid today, I was reminded of Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of how politics currently operates in Washington, D.C.

In the face of such a political culture, perhaps Mr. Reid will listen, as he drafts his bill, to the exhortation of Baha’u’llah, Whose choice of metaphor is remarkably apt in the current crisis.

O YE the elected representatives of the people in every land! Take ye counsel together, and let your concern be only for that which profiteth mankind, and bettereth the condition thereof, if ye be of them that scan heedfully. Regard the world as the human body which, though at its creation whole and perfect, hath been afflicted, through various causes, with grave disorders and maladies. Not for one day did it gain ease, nay its sickness waxed more severe, as it fell under the treatment of ignorant physicians, who gave full rein to their personal desires, and have erred grievously. And if, at one time, through the care of an able physician, a member of that body was healed, the rest remained afflicted as before. Thus informeth you the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

We behold it, in this day, at the mercy of rulers so drunk with pride that they cannot discern clearly their own best advantage, much less recognize a Revelation so bewildering and challenging as this. And whenever any one of them hath striven to improve its condition, his motive hath been his own gain, whether confessedly so or not; and the unworthiness of this motive hath limited his power to heal or cure.

That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. This can in no wise be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician. This, verily, is the truth, and all else naught but error…

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“O YE RICH ONES ON EARTH! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease.”

Such is the exhortation of Baha’u’llah in the Persian Hidden Words, #54. The difficult thing, of course, is translating that high ideal into practical reality.

In at least one sphere, child mortality, a New York Times article today indicates that some progress is being made. According to Unicef, 2008 was the first year since 1960, when the fund began keeping records, that fewer than nine million children under the age of five have died.

The article uses activities and programs in Malawi as a case study of how the change has been about. Two paragraphs are especially interesting:

Malawi illustrates the essence of the most successful efforts to reduce child mortality: it has found many creative ways to get the most cost-effective treatments and prevention methods to women and children, even in remote rural areas. Those interventions have included not just mosquito nets and vaccinations, but also deworming medicines and vitamin A supplements that boost children’s immunity.

Perhaps Malawi’s most powerful weapon is its ranks of more than 10,000 high school-educated village health workers. With a minimum 10 weeks of training, medical checklists to aid them in diagnosing childhood killers and hardy bicycles to get around, they dispense medicines and give injections, tasks only doctors and nurses do in many other countries.

These village health workers play a crucial role in the reduction of child mortality because they are local. Malawi has seen that its own people are excellent resources: raising their capacity allows the country to tackle its difficult problems. The article gives one example of a health worker at work:

“These days, when a child falls sick in the night, the mother can knock on the door of the health assistant,” said Teresa Frazier, 40. Her own 5-year-old daughter died after falling violently ill one night when Ms. Frazier was a young mother in a Malawian village of mud huts that, at the time, was many miles from the nearest medical help.

But as the sun went down on Monday, Ms. Frazier walked up to the tiny, two-room home of Blessings Mwaraya, 27, a health worker who lives amid banana, avocado and mango trees. Ms. Frazier, who gave birth to nine children, seven of whom survived, said she could not manage any more.

She had come for an injection of Depo Provera for birth control. Mr. Mwaraya, who earns $90 a month, painstakingly shook the little glass bottle containing the solution, drew it into the needle and stuck it in her arm. Health experts say family planning enables women to space births apart and have fewer children, aiding them in bearing healthier babies and better providing for them as they grow up.

“It’s still difficult to feed them all,” Ms. Frazier said of her surviving children, noting the paltry yield of corn on her small plot. Had Mr. Mwaraya been in the village in her younger days, she would have chosen to have had only four children, she said.

And Mr. Mwaraya clearly has the spirit of service in mind as he fulfills his role:

“My interest was to assist my fellow Malawians who were falling sick but never had treatment at the village level,” said Mr. Mwaraya, dressed in a uniform of light blue pants and a short-sleeve jacket.

Even though he is not among the “rich ones on earth,” Mr. Mwaraya is guarding the poor among his countrymen through his work. His work at the local level strikes me as being crucial to its success; he has undergone training that allows him to fulfill a role in the heath of his community, but he is not expected to have advanced training which his work does not require. So what might be perceived as a weakness – his lack of formal education – does not become a barrier to improving the lives of people in the country.

Mr. Mwaraya’s work parallels the work happening in Papua New Guinea under the auspices of a Baha’i-inspired agency, the Rays of Light Foundation, and their Preparation for Social Action program. This program focuses on building capacities for people to be of service to their communities.

One of the first texts studied is “Classification” which engenders in students the capability to classify things. One of the themes explored in this text is that of ‘parasitism’, i.e. when one species benefits at the expense of another. A case study on malaria is presented giving explanation of how the disease is transmitted, how it affects the body and information about how the disease can best be minimised is given to the reader.

The World Health Organization has described malaria as the “leading cause of illness and death in Papua New Guinea” and statistics show over 70000 reported infections for the year 2003. Many communities in Papua New Guinea are plagued with mosquitoes and are often ill-informed about the disease and have little access to relief from it. By being able to inform others of the key prevention techniques and by undertaking projects such as draining stagnant water holes the PSA group is able to help lessen the impact of malaria in their microregion.

Training that took place in Lae, Papua New Guinea in 2008 included one such project on the grounds where the training was taking place. Participants noticed that a ditch dug for a fish pond that was never completed was harbouring thousands of mosquito larvae and was one of the probable causes for sickness of some of the attendees. By filling in the pond the PSA tutors took one step towards protecting the surrounding inhabitants from malaria. Draining swampy areas, using protective clothing and mosquito nets, educating community members about the responsible use of anti-malarial medicines, reducing exposure to mosquitoes during the peak hours of transmittance of the disease and other similar steps are all different aspects of this grass roots approach to solving one of the world’s most widespread problems.

So, just as in Malawi, local people do the work of improving their own communities. This is part of a larger effort within Baha’i communities to engage in meaningful and productive social action, beginning in earnest in the 1990s. Century of Light, a publication commissioned by the Universal House of Justice on the twentieth century, and titled with the name given to that century by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, describes the 1990s this way:

The decade that followed saw wide experimentation in a field of work for which most Bahá’í institutions had little preparation. While striving to benefit from the models being tried by the many development agencies operating around the world, Bahá’í communities faced the challenge of relating what they found in various areas of concern—education, health, literacy, agriculture and communications technology—to their understanding of Bahá’í principles. The temptation was great, given the magnitude of the resources being invested by governments and foundations, and the confidence with which this effort was pursued, merely to borrow methods current at the moment or to adapt Bahá’í efforts to prevailing theories. As the work evolved, however, Bahá’í institutions began turning their attention to the goal of devising development paradigms that could assimilate what they were observing in the larger society to the Faith’s unique conception of human potentialities.

Perhaps the world is learning how to guard Baha’u’llah’s sacred trust.

UPDATE
It’s also important to note that at least some of the “rich ones on earth” are doing their part, too. From the Times article again.

Wealthy nations, international agencies and philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates have committed billions of dollars to the effort. Schoolchildren and church groups have also pitched in, paying for mosquito nets and feeding programs.

“If we say as a world we care about saving children, and tackle the problem systematically, piece by piece, we can make progress, and it’s really important for people to know that,” Mrs. Gates said in an interview.

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