New Internationalist

Briefly…

Issue 160

new internationalist
issue 160 - June 1986

BRIEFLY...

HEALTH

Schweitzer's legacy
Illustration: Alan Hughes Twenty years after Albert Schweitzer's death at the age of ninety the medical missionary is still a presence in the hospital village of Lambarene, Gabon. But the lack of finance and of skilled medical staff are threatening to close down the good doctor's legacy.

Old wooden buildings have now given way to a modern hospital complex, including two surgical wards with three operating rooms and a maternity ward.

The medical facilities which Schweitzer established were always humble. They evolved into a hospital village where the sick could come with their families, who cooked for them and lived nearby. What was lacking in sterility was made up for in companionship. This respect for African ways was one of Schweitzer's great strengths. Today his beliefs in economy and practicality are often ignored. The hospital is now so expensive to run that contributions - mainly from West Germany and Switzerland - and subsidies from the Gabonese government are still not enough. Last year ended with a budget deficit of almost $200,000.

From Suddeutsche Zeitung, excerpted in World Press Review, Vol 33 No 3.

TOBACCO

The big kill
Over three million people in the UK have died from smoking since the end of World War Two, and there will be 1.5 million more deaths by 2000 AD if there is no decline in the tobacco trade, according to The Big Kill a report from the Health Education Council and the British Medical Association. The report shows how many die from smoking-related diseases in every parliamentary constituency and local government area.

From The Times, London 27.11.85.

WEALTH

Dream Lottery
Some Canadians are beginning to worry about the success of their lotteries. 'In the year ending March 1985, Canadians had spent $1.5 billion on lotteries - about $286 million more than we spent as a nation on cigarettes,' reported Patricia Orwen in the Toronto Star. 'Annual lottery sales are roughly equivalent to those of some of the nation's top fifty corporations . . . increased a record 17 per cent last year, with spending average $59.05 a person.

Ms Orwen writes that in Ontario the heaviest spenders on lotteries are the French Canadians, the aged and those without high-school diplomas. She quotes Prof. McCormack Smyth of York University:

'Lotteries are a carefully devised scheme to exploit the tendencies of Canadians to be greedy.' So is stock market speculation, but you don't find the dispossessed, underprivileged and discriminated against indulging in that form of gambling. Of course the dream of success is being sold with every ticket, and the buyers are those conventionally thought of as failures. Perhaps Sports Minister Otto Jelinek came nearer the mark, 'It is really a tax on the poor - maybe even an immoral method of tax collection.'

From Toronto Star, 1986

CHILDREN

Rambo sickness spreads
Children are about to meet a new television star. Yes, Rambo is joining the ranks of the violent superheroes and omnipotent robots who populate TV cartoons. And the Rambo dolls and accessories are scheduled to hit the stores just in time for the TV debut.

Five of the six best-selling toys of 1985 were so-called 'action figures' - stars of cartoons that give children battling story lines to plug into.

From Mother Jones, April/May 1986

CHINA

Swords to ploughshares
In 1980 the Chinese leadership recognised that the country's rigidly separated weapons manufacturing industry was contributing little to the economy. Since then they have begun a remarkable experiment in conversion which has been tapping the skills and resources locked up in production for the military. All China's weapons factories now produce some civilian goods and help the transport, energy, telecommunications and construction industries. In 1985 these military factories made 500,000 motorcycles, 250,000 cameras, 100,000 refrigerators, 450,000 bicycles and 7,000 other vehicles. Ten per cent of the production was for export. And in 1986 the value of civilian production in the weapons factories is planned to be raised by 50 per cent. Where there's a will there's a way.

From Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Newsletter February 1986.

SEX

Circumcision - no thanks
In Pennsylvania, the medical insurance scheme Blue Shield has announced it will drop routine infant circumcision from its coverage of that state from July 1. In California a mother is suing the doctor who circumcised her son, claiming that parents do not have the right to consent to medically unnecessary surgery for their children. And across the US, as many as 20 men have undergone foreskin reconstruction surgery.

Today the American medical establishment has declared circumcision medically unnecessary. Nevertheless the US remains the only country in the world where the great majority of baby boys are routinely circumcised for non-religious reasons. This is just one of the joys of a private medical system.

From Mother Jones, April/May 1986

WORLD DEVELOPMENT

Vital Statistics

  • An estimated $1000 billion was spent on military projects in 1985; less than 5 per cent of that was spent on development in the Third World.
  • Worldwide spending on arms for half a day, if saved, would be enough to finance the World Health Organization programme to eradicate malaria.
  • The price of a modern tank is enough to provide 100 classrooms for 30,000 children.
  • Over the next five years, according to UNICEF, 15 million children will die annually, 41,000 daily and 28 every minute.

From World Armament and World Hunger - A Call for Action by Willy Brandt, Gollancz.

ENVIRONMENT

The greenhouse effect
The world is likely to heat up at least one degree Centigrade and perhaps by five degrees by the year 2000 because of the combined 'greenhouse effect' of many trace gases. The US National Center for Atmospheric Research reported these conclusions in the leading science journal Nature after reviewing all the available information on the effects of the different gases. These include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chloroflourocarbons - which are mainly used as propellants in spray cans and coolants in refrigerators.

From New Scientist, 16.1.86

'There is such a thing as being too late. Over the bleached bones of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: "Too late." If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the dark corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.'

Martin Luther King

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