Tag Archive for 'Dr. Jeffrey Sachs'

World Malaria Day

Did you know that one day’s worth of Pentagon spending ($1.5 Billion US Dollars) would be enough to protect every man, woman, and child in Africa from malaria for five years? Don’t take my word for it – Dr. Jeffrey Sachs was the one who did the math on that. We can create a world free from malaria. It is never been easier to achieve and the need has never been more pressing.

In this latest episode I go into further detail about some of the mosquito nets I distributed in episode one. I also show excerpts of my interview with a Catholic Priest who got infected with malaria 38 times (twice of which was cerebral malaria). This is the same footage I was trying to mail out of the country for use by an advocacy organization based in Switzerland. Incidentally, I was finally able to send that footage to Switzerland afterall. I was able to give the tape to one of my uncles who was flying to Singapore. He then mailed it to Switzerland from there. Take that evil Draconian export laws of Bangladesh!

Mosquito Killed by PermaNet

I also go into more detail about the PermaNets donated to me by Vestergaard-Frandsen. I’ve talked about PermaNets before and I can’t recommend them enough. These nets do work. The PermaNet over my bed has scrapped up against splinters and nails – but it hasn’t ripped. These nets are also treated with a long-lasting insecticide which is harmless to humans but kill mosquitos when they come into contact with the net. The reason the insecticide is long-lasting is because it is manufactured into the net in a way that won’t wash away. Rather, it will stay at an effective concentration level for years.

This World Malaria Day why not consider donating a PermaNet? You don’t even need to give me a dime to do so. Just check the recommended charities section of this site for a list of charities that distirbute PermaNets. And, as always, I was not paid or required to endorse any of the companies that I talk about (including Vestergaard-Frandsen).

Religious Riots in Dhaka

Dhaka Riots (image by Getty Images)I’m glad I stayed home last Friday because riots broke out yesterday in Dhaka City and dozens were injured. There hasn’t been riots for a while in Bangladesh. The last time this happened was around when I first started this blog. Unfortunately, unlike the previous riots, these ones were religious in nature. Religious extremists were (violently) protesting plans to give women equal rights in regards to inheritance (equal rights for women? For shame! /sarcasm).

The simple fact is – especially when it comes to Islamic extremists – such protests are nothing but an exercise in hypocrisy. Because there is supposed to be “no compulsion in Islam”. If these religious extremists were truly following their religion – they should not have been trying to forcibly impose their particular interpretation of Islam on others. God gave us all free will and I – for one – will be damned if I accept the attempts of some of his more extreme followers to try and take away that gift.

As disturbing as these developments are this is proof of what Dr. Jeffrey Sachs has been arguing. There is a connection between religious extremism, terrorism, and poverty. It should be no surprise that these religious extremists were able to mobilize during a time of severely rising food prices. These food prices have already caused a lot of people to protest and riot. It’s very easy to redirect one’s anger when they are hungry – and that’s what the extremists have been doing.

To fight Islamic – hypocritical – extremism we need to fight poverty. It’s just that simple.

My Thoughts on Micro-Credit

“Have you looked into micro-credit?” is the question I get asked most frequently. I actually got to meet Professor Yunus – a Bangladeshi and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in micro-credit. Micro-credits are basically small loans to those poor who wish to use that small loan for entrepreneurial purposes with the goal of pulling themselves out of poverty. Grameen Bank (founded by Professor Yunus) has had incredible results and amazing success stories. The reason I have somewhat shyed away from focusing on micro-credit in my work here in Bangladesh is because I believe there is an overemphasis on micro-credit back in the developed world. Micro-credit is part of the solution to ending poverty. It is not the solution to ending poverty in and of itself.

In terms of borrowing money, the poor in the developing world are very much like people in the developed world: what makes sense for us also make sense for them. It makes perfect sense, for example, to take a loan so you can attend a college. But does it make sense for you (or your parents) to take a loan so you can go to grade school? It also makes perfect sense to take a loan to buy a car. If you took a loan to buy a car, for example, you could start a delivery/transport business. But, would it make sense to constantly have to take subsequent loans because your car keeps breaking down because of the lack of proper roads? It’s also understandable that people sometimes need to to take loans to pay for medical expenses. But imagine if you could avoid getting sick in the first place simply by having a community with basic sanitation and the simplest of protection against diseases.

There is nothing wrong with micro-credit. It’s the developed world’s attitude toward micro-credit which is the problem. Aid and micro-credit isn’t an either/or proposition. They can work together. Many of the Millennium Development Goals advocated by Dr. Sachs and the United Nations are really a good basic support. Completing the MDGs will put people in a position of 1) being able to take full advantage of any micro-credit loans they ask for as well 2) helping people avoid unnecessary loans. Why take a loan for malaria treatments in a hospital when you can avoid getting infected by sleeping in an insecticide treated mosquito net? Imagine how far someone can go with a micro-credit loan if they have had the opportunity to gain even the basic of literacy skills to tap their full potential and ingenuity.

If there was a one sure fire solution to ending extreme global poverty – we’d already have this problem solved. Reaching a real solution means having to break our romantic belief that there is a holy grail to ending poverty.

“How Can I Get Involved?” – An Answer

Hey to everyone who have recently stumbled upon this site. The number one comment/inquiry I have been getting is: “How can I get involved?”. Since it’s becoming harder and harder to respond to every email and comment personally – let me answer that question in this blog post:

1) Volunteering and/or Seeking a Position?: I might have given the wrong impression with some of my videos. I’m just one guy – I’m not an organization, NGO, or charity. I am honored that people are asking for “a position in my organization” or to “volunteer for my cause” – but what I’m doing isn’t really anything on that kind of scale. Volunteering is important though – and I highly recommend those interested in checking out both Save the Children and the VSO (that is the VSO UK site – but they have branches in many countries).

2) Sending Supplies?: I’m kind of weary of people sending supplies from abroad given my previous bad experiences with corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office. A very supportive company (Vestergaard Frandsen) had donated some water purification straws (called LifeStraws) and insecticide treated sheeting (called ZeroFly) and had it shipped to me here in Bangladesh. But, when it came to picking it up at the customs office – the local bureaucrats wouldn’t release it without over a $100 in trumped up fees and bribes (or “commissions” as they put it). I’ve even heard of a Canadian NGO/charity which had trouble having their water purification equipment released during the deadly floods of last year. Whether its non-profit charity work or time-sensitive disaster relief – the corrupt bureaucrats at the customs office don’t seem to care.

3) Making a Donation?: I ended the very first video on YouTube with “Don’t worry – I’m not asking for your money”. But, ever since then, I’ve been asked repeatedly if I would consider setting up a PayPal account and start accepting donations. My work in Bangladesh is admittedly very small scale. The big name organizations like Save the Children and smaller (but more personal) organizations like Nari Jibon operate with a greater economy of scale. Donating to them makes more sense because your donation can go further with them. But, given the frequent requests, I am in the process of setting up a PayPal donation system. I will keep you posted. Although even when that is setup – I’d still recommend you donate to one of the recommended charities. They are tax deductible and I won’t be unfortunately.

Above all – more than volunteering, more than making a donation or sending supplies – the most important thing you can do is to make this a priority in your life. Too many people ignore these pressing issues using rhetoric or apathy. Making the world a better place for others – makes it a better place for us. As Dr. Jeffrey Sachs said, “eveywhere we share the same common human bond”. Dr. Sachs (my inspiration for this project and author of the book “The End of Poverty”) believes we can end poverty in our lifetime. I believe him. But in order for that to happen – we have to make it a priority in both our lives and in the political realm.

Bangladesh and the Bird Flu


I got this SMS on my phone today, it reads:

“It is safe to eat properly cooked chicken meat and fully boiled or fried eggs even under bird flu situation – Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock”.

There is actually a concerted media effort, on the part of the government here in Bangladesh, to try and reduce the hysteria regarding eating eggs and egg products. I was also listening to Bangla-language radio earlier tonight and the DJ – in between songs – was quizzing people about which temperature people need to cook eggs in order for them to be safe enough to eat. He then gave a number where listeners could SMS their responses. I think there was a prize for a random person who got the answer right.

So what exactly is the bird flu? If anyone has ever lived in a dormitory, you know that when someone gets the flu – eventually everyone gets the flu. The bird flu is kind of like that – it is a very easy to catch and can infect both birds and human beings. The problem is that, unlike the kind of flu that you can easily recover from with some rest, the bird flu can be deadly. In fact, there is a particular strain called the H5N1 virus which is both very contagious and very deadly.

Why is bird flu a threat? Given how contagious and deadly H5N1 can be, many scientists believe that the next global pandemic will be caused by Avian Bird Flu. A global pandemic might be hard to imagine – because it has never happened in our generation. But it has happened quite frequently throughout human history. There was the Black Death caused by the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages, “the consumption” (aka tuberculosis) a few generations back, and the Polio Epidemics of the early 1900s.

Why don’t have a pandemic already? The reason we are safe for now is because germs take time to mutate. If you’ve ever wondered why, despite medical technology, we can’t cure the common cold – it’s because the cold virus keeps mutating. You might catch a cold several times during your life – but you probably have never been infected by the exact same virus twice. We have the advantage right now because, even though people can get sick from bird flu, they cannot pass it onto others. It’s not contagious between humans – only between birds and humans.

Why should you care? Bird flu was actually one of the topics that Dr. Sachs talked about during the Notre Dame Forum on Global Health. I talked about it as well – and included some clips from Dr. Sachs – in my video about Super Tuesday. Diseases don’t need passports. They can come into any country –  anywhere in the world. That’s especially true with a disease like bird flu – it can be brought into a country by migratory birds even if a country decides to seal its borders. The threat from Bird Flu dwarfs the threat from terrorism.

What does poverty have to do with this? Even though Bird Flu exists in North America, it is most likely that any Bird Flu pandemic would start here in Bangladesh. Why? Because, unlike North America – there isn’t that big a seperation between the urban and the agricultural. The eggs you buy from the supermarket were probably laid by a chicken over a hundred miles (or a thousand miles) away. In Dhaka, when you buy eggs – you can often see the chicken that it came from. People are in much closer contact to poultry and Bird Flu carrying animals than in North America.

People also have less access to health care. In order to avoid costly medical and clinic fees, most poor people here don’t go to the doctor unless they are on the verge of death. If they get infected with the Bird Flu (which would feel just like any regular flu) they are most likely going to try and tough it out (or try and treat it themselves). The poor are not only the first victims of global health issues – they are often the unfortunate incubators for diseases to mutate and grow.

It’s not just the health care system that is lacking here in the Third World. When a farmer in North America has a batch of birds which have Bird Flu – they can get reimbursed through insurance and/or government subsidies provided through tax dollars. When a poor farmer who has a few chickens and sells eggs is ordered to kill his birds due to the flu – he has no safety net: he’s out of business. And it’s usually the poor farmers that are at greater risk because they can’t afford all the equipment needed to keep things sanitary and clean.

It’s such a shame that, in a world where the rich countries are often pro-active in trying to eliminate potential threats from terrorism, we don’t often pay enough attention to equally important (or more dangerous) threats to our safety and security. I’m still waiting for a President to say “we have to fight bird flu over there, so we don’t have to fight bird flu over here”.

One Difference at a Time – The Follow-Up

Before (read my original article here):

PermaNet (Mosquito Net) Given to a Single Mother of Two

Five Months Later:

Five Months Later...

What’s Different?

  • Clothes – no more walking around shiverring and shirtless! (clothes provided by my aunt)
  • Schooling – the eldest son just graduated from Grade One! (school costs paid for by my mom, dad, and I)
  • No more insects and insect-bites! The PermaNet  I donated to them got rid of the cockroaches that used to crawl around their bed at night. It’s also protected them from being feasted upon by mosquitoes while they slept. (PermaNet donated to this project courtesy of Vestergaard Frandsen – they rock)
  • Can Study in the Dark – that windup flashlight I gave them still works and the eldest son uses it to study. My dad was worried that a five dollar camping flashlight from Wal-Mart wouldn’t be useful as long-term light source in the third world. Five months on, it’s still going on strong. LEDs and hand-cranked rechargable batteries rule!
  • Hungry no more! Malnutrition is a big problem here. And, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t eating meals. Rather, it means that people aren’t eating a lot of the proper stuff – because they can’t afford it. Protein and iron deficieines are all too common here. I found out that most of the poorer locals can’t afford beef or other foods high in protein. There are apparently two kinds of salt sold here. The “poor mans” salt is basically old and low in iron. The good stuff – the kind most reading this have on their dinner tables – is high in iron. Not only did we give them money for food but also, whenever my grandmother is in town, she invites them over for a meal full of all the stuff they normally can’t afford like beef and the “good” kind of salt. I was able to share such a meal with them earlier today.

Here’s a photo I took shortly after eating along with them:

One Difference at a Time - The Follow-Up

One of the things I remember Dr. Jeffrey Sachs talking about was how the poor know what they need but just cannot afford to buy it. Now that I knew the basics (protection from insect bites, funds for school, helping with food, etc) were taken care of – I could finally ask them: what do they need? I could tell no one ever asked the mother this question because it kind of took her aback. After some hesitation, the mother turned to the eldest son and quietly talked to him for a bit. She then turned to me and said it would really help if I could buy them a desk and a couple of chairs. They can’t afford it and, because of it, the son needs to study on the bed (as you can see in episode one).

Since Ikea hasn’t opened up a shop yet in rural Bangladesh, I was kind of worried that this would cost a bit of money. Afterall, all the furniture here is hand-made. And when was the last time anything hand-made was cheap, right? I went to the local bazar with my grandmother and we scouted out a couple of good hand-made chairs and a hand-made table to go along with it – not unlike the table and chair I’m using right now. Turns out the whole thing cost eight bucks. Eight bucks. Wow. Let me put it this way: There is a vending machine on the ground floor of the Hesburgh Library back at Notre Dame that has stolen more than eight bucks from me.

If I was looking for a pat on the back about my work – I’d end this article here. But, no good deed goes unpunished and nothing good comes without trouble. So click the jump to hear more…

Continue reading ‘One Difference at a Time – The Follow-Up’

A REAL Conversation about Poverty

After my latest video got featured on the YouTube homepage, there were so many people leaving comments about how fat I was, how I talked, or just leaving racial epithets, that I was resigned to the fact that my message had been lost among all the hateful messages. Then, something really amazing happened. A group of well-spoken, intelligent, and considerate group of commenters appeared. And, for the first time since being featured, a real conversation emerged.

Of course, as with any discussion, we didn’t all end up agreeing. But at least we addressed some important issues. Here is a summary of some of the topics that were touched upon:

Continue reading ‘A REAL Conversation about Poverty’