Of human misery: natural and manmade

Published: February 11, 2018
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The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of the OIC

The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of the OIC

Some years ago, media reports spread quite a scare about the spreading of ‘swine flu’. The epidemic reportedly originated from Mexico and then permeated north into the US where a dozen fatal cases were reported. One of the hazards of the emergence of the ‘global village’ is that there is very little to prevent the spreading of such epidemics. This was by no means the first scare, although may be the first in which the accusing finger was not pointed at Asia or Africa. The swine flu, let it be said, was basically a ‘Western’ phenomenon.

Around the same time, two other news items concerning public health had appeared in the media. One related to what was then termed ‘bird flu’. It quoted an international vaccine expert as warning that it was only a matter of time before a “deadly flu pandemic” struck. The world, he warned, was ill prepared to cope with such a major outbreak of the disease.

Another item was about Aids and its devastating impact on health in the continent of Africa. The Kenyan lady minister, winner of the Nobel peace prize 2004, was quoted expressing the conviction that the Aids virus was not a natural phenomenon but happened to be manmade, implying that the spreading of the Aids virus over vast areas of the African continent was a ‘deliberate’ act.

The aforementioned news items provided serious food for thought. For one thing, they had the effect of shaking one’s confidence in the role of the modern medical research establishment. For another, they served to add fuel to the already boiling conspiracy theory cauldron as regards the AIDS epidemic. Together, they were enough to spread panic in an already jittery world community. The one thought that crossed the mind was: how could mankind be so callous? Earlier history of medical research, though, tells an entirely different and touching story. The perspicacious reader may be interested in the following item reproduced by the International Herald Tribune from its pages, circa June 1899: “The Liverpool School for Tropical Diseases has decided to dispatch to the west coast of Africa a special expedition for the purpose of investigating the causes of malaria. The expedition will be headed by Major Ross and will start for Sierra Leone early in August, when the malaria season is at its height and the conditions are most favourable for research. Major Ross hopes to prove his theory that malaria is caused by the bites of a mosquito.”

One cannot but be impressed by the profoundly touching sense of dedication of researchers of the likes of the said Major Ross. These pioneers surmounted fearful odds in their endeavours to discover the ‘healing touch’ for humanity’s ailments. Humankind benefited enormously from the hard work put in by such dedicated individuals. The world has since acquired a mercenary hue. In days gone by, such research was carried out with extremely scarce resources and with what can only be described as ‘missionary zeal’. Today it is pelf that rules the roost. Public memory is proverbially short! How many people would even recall the times when such diseases as pneumonia were considered incurable and fatal? And yet today hardly anyone gives a second thought to such ailments.

Looking at the larger canvas, it may be imprudent not to recognise the fact that it is nature that guides man’s efforts. Cures for all human ailments are to be found in nature; just waiting to be discovered. It is no coincidence then that most medicines were initially discovered in natural form, usually in the flora and fauna. Only after their discovery in nature were some drugs synthesised for mass production.

Nature, at the same time, prescribes a certain regime to follow in order to be safe from disease. Out of all species, it is humankind alone that is guilty of violating the regime prescribed by nature so that each succeeding generation falls prey to newer and newer ailments, quite a few of them man-made. Evidently, nature does not take kindly to mankind’s indiscretions.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2018.

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