Development in poor countries : beginning with the first steps
About water, malnutrition, polio
tree planting to slow the advance of the desert,
and teaching women to read and write.
Our world is sick.
1.2 billion people have no access to drinking water; two billion people have no sanitation; two billion people suffer from malnutrition; close to three billion people live on 2 euros per day (in France, the minimum wage corresponds to 40 euros per day).
We cannot remain unconcerned: it is in our interest to help populations live in their own country because our European land will not be able to welcome all of them. Goodwill is not enough It is good to want to help others, but one needs to know how to go about it.
To avoid being caught in swindles, it is essential to go into the country we want to help.
One must be realistic, and especially not naïve. One must listen carefully to detect and avoid corrupt people. One must be vigilant and only consider dealing with trustworthy persons, often religious ones.
I ask the Rotary Foundations and Clubs to finance my projects.
The association “Santé et Développement” (Health and Development) helps us to meet concrete and immediate needs.
When I start a project, I keep two criteria in mind:
1. The project must bring hope. It must be “a spark of hope” and not “a drop of water in the desert”. This project must really improve the life of the people of the country, be a model for future action and create a momentum for development.
2. The project must meet a need, something that the population requested.
We cannot make decisions for other people. It is a matter of respect and regard for the dignity of the persons whom we want to help.
“It is not enough to help, one must know how to help” says Father Pedro in Madagascar.
As a village chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo once told me : “What you do for me, without me, you do it against me”.
One must be careful not to become indifferent to extreme poverty, not to get used to it.
As a physician, I have two priorities:
• To supply drinking water
• To fight malnutrition.
LET US GIVE WATER
Because water is life.
When the conditions of drinking water supply and of sewerage in a country are the ones which existed in France in the Middle Ages, one finds the same illnesses which were then prevalent: plague, cholera, leprosy, intestinal infections. What is the point of treating diarrhea if the patient still drinks the same polluted water and is going to be infected again immediately?
In Madagascar, 90% of the population lives in the countryside and 1.2 billion people in the world have no access to drinking water.
World population tripled in the 20th century, but the demand for water multiplied by six.
If we do nothing, 2.5 billion people will have no access to drinking water in 2025.
In Africa, 45% of the population have no access to running water and, in 2025, two thirds of the population will suffer from serious water shortage. Beer is often cheaper than bottled water.
Eighty per cent of diseases which affect populations in the South are caused by drinking polluted water.
To quote an example, let us look at the Pangalanes Canal in Madagascar.
The children I examined were affected by 5 illnesses:
• pulmonary infection,
• intestinal infection,
• intestinal parasites,
• skin disease,
• and malaria.
All this happens because the water they drink is polluted and their food is only rice.
How can we fight malnutrition, which brings illnesses?
We place a great hope in the use of leaf extracts, particularly “alfalfa extract”.
What are the facts?
Two billion people suffer from malnutrition, i.e. one out of three inhabitants of our planet. Poor people, due to lack of money, must make do with cereals (rice, manioc, corn) almost totally lacking in proteins, trace elements and vitamins.
Their food supply is neither sufficient (causing malnutrition by deficit), nor balanced (causing malnutrition by deficiency).
In their daily intake, 800 million people do not find the 2,200 calories per day which the FAO considers the average minimum of food needed: this is the realm of permanent hunger, they are undernourished.
One billion people get more than these 2,200 calories but suffer from nutritional deficiencies in proteins, vitamins and minerals. This is malnutrition.
A balanced food supply generally comes from two sources:
• Vegetable origin: grains (cereal) and roots. Fruits and vegetables.
• Animal origin: meat, milk, eggs, fish.
Animal products are expensive because animals consume more vegetable proteins than they supply animal proteins that can be consumed by humans (the return is from 5% to 35% at best).
The poorest populations have no access to foods of animal origin because of their high price and they are condemned to eat basic vegetables that are cheap and seldom varied (rice, manioc) excluding vegetables and fruits which often are also too expensive.
Our hope resides in the use of the nutritional wealth (proteins, trace elements and vitamins) in alfalfa leaves.
Because human beings are not herbivorous, the solution consists in bringing the nutritional value of green leaves in very concentrated form, after having removed the cellulose from the leaves and stems.
Among all the legumes, alfalfa is the plant which provides the largest quantity of raw proteins per hectare: 2,000 to 3,000 kilos, i.e. three times as much as soy beans and four times as much as wheat.
A daily intake of 10 grammes of alfalfa extract brings to a child weighing 10 kilos:
• 300% of his/her needs in vitamin A
• 100% of his/her needs in iron
• 40% of his/her needs in vitamin E
• 30% of his/her needs in calcium
• 20% of his/her needs in protein
It is paradoxical to make human being herbivorous when we have made cows carnivorous.
Ponds for fish farming, which we established in the center of the Democratic Republic of CONGO (Lodja, Tshumbe) are also an excellent way to correct protein deficiency in these populations who have suffered terribly from five years of war between 1998 and 2003.
“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; if you teach him to fish, you feed him for life”.
The eradication of polio from the world is the most fantastic humanitarian venture realized by humans.
To get rid of this disease, an exceptional and remarkable joint venture took place in 1985 between international organizations: WHO, UNICEF, USAID, the Atlanta CDC and the ROTARY FOUNDATION. Rotary, which was its catalyst, gave 500 million Euros for this action (out of a total of 2.5 billion Euros).
In Madagascar, where I represented the Rotary Foundation, we formed 15,000 teams of 3 persons who vaccinated 3 million children between 0 and 5 years of age in the entire island.
The point of the situation
• More than 2 billion children between 0 and 5 years of age have been vaccinated in the world
• More than 5 million children avoided poliomyelitis
• From 1988 to 2006, we went from 350,000 cases of poliomyelitis per year to 1,912 cases in the world in 2006.
• Four countries are still endemic:
Nigeria 1,077 cases out of 1,912
India 643 cases
Pakistan 39 cases
Afghanistan 31 cases
Technically, we have made huge progress: we now have a more efficient monovalent vaccine, and faster procedures to identify the poliovirus in laboratories.
The goal of eradicating poliomyelitis is within our reach. It essentially depends on political will that all children in these endemic regions get inoculated.
To slow down the advance of the desert, this silent enemy which moves
forward 3 to 5 kilometers per year, we have started plantations of cashew
trees in Senegal and gum trees in Niger (which provide the arabic gum
used to make confectionery and pharmaceutical products). In the Democratic
Republic of Congo, we have planted “100 hectares of oil producing palm trees
for the 100 years of the Rotary Club”.
Last, but not least, with the help of the Rotary Club, I started a Literacy Program in 10 poor districts of Kinshasa 10 (in the Democratic Republic of Congo) because I am convinced that democracy requires a population that can read and write.
“Who possesses information has power”.
In Africa and in Madagascar, we can see that, as far as development is concerned, women are the channel for all that is related to health and education.
To illustrate this point, here are two testimonies given during a small party by two women who had recently learned to read and write:
• “My son works in Belgium. On a regular basis, he sends money to me, which I must get from the bank. Now that I can read, I realize that the bank clerk was only giving me part of the money that my son sent to me…”
• “Now that I can read, I greatly enjoy reading everything I see: every advertising poster or information sign interests me a lot. How nice it is for me! One day, I read a sign that said “we are looking for a cook”. I rushed to tell my husband, who was an unemployed cook, about it. He was hired immediately. That’s why with all my heart, I thank the persons who taught me to read and allowed me to enter Life”.
Those are modest actions but, as a friend of mine who is a physician in Lome, Togo, told me :
“Your action is important for two reasons:
- You show us that you have not forgetten us,
- And you pull us out of our indifference.”