Tag Archive for 'Malaria'Page 2 of 2

How Bug Repellent is Eating My MacBook

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For better or worse, I found a product that does exactly what the label says.

Before coming to Bangladesh, I bought several bottles of Deep Woods OFF! at Costco. It comes in handy because mosquitoes are a big problem here in Bangladesh. There is malaria in Bangladesh – but, much more common is the deadly Dengue Virus. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know my mother was infected by a Dengue-carrying mosquito and had to be hospitalized because of it. Dengue, unlike malaria, comes from daytime biting mosquitoes. Unless you plan on sleeping during the day, bed nets are going to be absolutely useless against these guys.

So, especially since moving to a mosquito-heavy part of Dhaka City, I’ve started using this stuff almost religiously. What makes this stuff work is its use of a chemical called DEET. Now, DEET is pretty strong stuff and the bottle comes with a clear warning label: it may damage plastics. And that’s exactly what it’s done. In just the few days I’ve been using this stuff on a regular basis I’ve noticed that the plastic near where my wrist rests on my MacBook Pro (the plastic trimming) has started to corrode. In fact, it’s almost a perfect 1:1 line-up to where I place my wrists and where the plastic is getting corroded.

Let this be a warning to campers and/or those traveling to the mosquito-infested areas. If your using bug repellent – don’t use your computer. Unless you don’t care for it to get eaten up.

[Full disclosure: As with all the other times I have mentioned some company or product on this website, I haven’t been paid to do so.]

Bangladesh Corruption – I’m Sick of It! Five Facts That Boil The Blood.

Literally and figuratively – I am sick and tired of this country’s corruption. Corruption alone maybe what keep this country firmly entrenched in its third world status. Here are five facts that bring my blood to a boil.

Fact #1: Paying the Bills Isn’t Enough.

I was at Notre Dame College the other day. Notre Dame College is a middle school and high school for Bangladesh children that provides education to middle class and extremely poor Bangladeshi children. It’s founded by the same Catholic organization that founded my alma mater in South Bend, Indiana. Some of the staff there used to be Rectors at some of the Halls at the American Notre Dame too. I’ve spent a lot of time there during this trip – makes me less homesick. My last visit there I was surprised to find the phone lines were cut – and it had nothing to do with forgetting to pay the bill.

In fact, the bills were paid on time and in full. It turns out that, in Bangladesh, paying your bills doesn’t get your service. I’ve talked about the corruption at the local water authority. The sad news is that this type of corruption isn’t limited to water. This corruption exists at the phone company and the electricity company too. If your water stops flowing – you need to ask for the water company to send a water tanker to your building. If the phone lines stop working – you need to have a technician come to your place. And, rest assured, every phone technician, water truck driver, and the middleman you need to deal with will be asking for a “commission” (which is just a nice term to legitimize bribery).

Fact #2: People suffer when this happens.

Believe it or not – there are honest people in this country trying to make an honest living here. But, rest assured, they are given a hard time by those a bit more corrupt. This is the Muslim month of Ramadan. For those not versed in Islam, it’s basically as important as Christmas is to Christians. A lot of people are buying and shopping at this time of year. It’s a time when those shopkeepers – who want to be able to survive for the rest of the year – need to be able to do business. This was made impossible for shopkeepers at the Bongo Bazaar in Dhaka (I found this great video of some foreigners shopping in the Bongo Bazaar if you want to see what it looks like). Despite paying their bills, the shop keepers didn’t have access to electricity. This wasn’t like a rolling blackout – that’s quite common here. This was a complete shutdown of electricity. Most of these shopkeepers could not afford backup generators. In much an enclosed and non-ventilated space – even local Bangladeshis couldn’t tolerate the heat there for more than two minutes.

No electricity means no fans. No fans means no shoppers. No shoppers means no business. No business means no income. No income means that it’s impossible to bribe the electricity company so that the power gets put back on. Sometimes I feel Bangladesh does a good job of keeping itself trapped in the poverty cycle.

Fact #3: People get sick when this happens.

In medieval Europe, people would put the contents of their toilet into a bucket (or just use a bucket as their toilet). When it needed to be emptied – they’d go near the window and dump it all out. This is how people lived when indoor plumbing didn’t exist. It’s good to know that corruption helps to keep the medieval spirit alive and well. Because, when there is no water, my neighbors in the adjacent apartments sometimes scoop out their toilets with a bucket and dump the contents out the window. This would be less disgusting if the entrance to the place I’m staying didn’t happen to be where they dump their stuff. Disgust aside – with medieval practices come medieval diseases. It’s no surprise that everyone who lives here has had pink eye, typhoid, and stomach related illnesses.

And like the bazaar that had no electricity, Notre Dame college which had no phone lines, or my residential block which (once again) has no water – this all is happening during the month of Ramadan. A time when people need extra cash to shop and spend on their family. And it just so happens that the electricity, phone line, and water all magically come back when you give the right person the right amount of bribes. Corrupt people need to shop for their families too – but it’s innocent victims that line their pockets.

Fact #4: Corruption disproportionately hurts the poor.

I was visiting someone who had an apartment in a region of the city called Baridhara. Baridhara is a diplomatic zone – it has the US Embassy (along with other embassies from other countries) and is the home to many foreigners and rich locals. Many of the apartments there would put most homes in North America to shame. LCD TVs in every room, each room with its own independent A/C, marble flooring and countertops, and all the fancy fixtures and accessories to go along with it. If the power goes out – there is a generator that can power everything for up to a day. If the water goes out – houses and apartments there come with massive reserve tanks. And when bribing is necessary, the apartment building manager pays off the right people and adds the cost to the apartment fees. Bribing for a flat rate – how convenient is that?

The same is true for the stores that cater to the rich. At a local supermarket called Lavender, one of the few places where white customers out number Bangladeshis, a small bag of cookies costs about 8 US Dollars. In local terms thats over 500 of the local currency – or about 4 times the daily income of over 80% of the population. But, unlike the Bongo Bazaar, the shoppers there never need to worry about a lack of electricity for the A/C. The high price of goods helps pay for the bribes. Not every store can be like Lavender and add the cost of bribes to the price of the products.

Fact #5: Corruption is so bad, even aid agencies don’t trust the locals.

One of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals is to stop the spread of HIV, tuberculous, and malaria. To help in this cause there is a Global Fund – literally called the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculous and Malaria. The Global Fund helps many countries – but when they decided to try and help Bangladesh, they decided not to work with the government or most local NGOs. When it comes to purchasing things like mosquito nets, the government and or an NGO needs to place a request to a foreign agency like the World Health Organization. The UN then acts as the honest broker and makes the purchase ensuring that money meant for poor people doesn’t get pocketed by corrupt officials.

I don’t think anyone really understands what kind of corruption this country has until you come and live here. Where is Don Corleone when you need him? The man would be a saint in this country.

Go Irish! Beat Malaria!

While I’m over here trying to make one difference at a time in the battle against malaria, it’s good to know that the Fighting Irish are doing their best to make sure the war against malaria is one we can win for good.

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Recently, the Gates Foundation gave the University of Notre Dame $20 million dollars to continue research in the fight against malaria. This funding also helps to create test areas and partnerships in Indonesia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia. They will not only be collecting data but also making sure that we can stay one step ahead in fighting mosquitoes that carry the malaria virus. For example, one of the biggest concerns is that insecticides that work now (like those embedded in the PermaNets I have distributed) might not work in the future as mosquitoes develop a resistance.

This funding will stretch over five-years and will involve the Notre Dame Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases as well as the Notre Dame College of Engineering. I couldn’t be happier. Some of my best friends from Notre Dame are engineering students. In fact, my roommate before leaving Notre Dame was an engineering grad student. It’s a comforting thought that, while I’m out here doing my part, back on campus some of my friends and people I know are in the same fight.

While, I know we’ve been having a hard time winning lately on the football field, the fight against malaria is one battle the Fighting Irish can’t afford to lose.

You can read the official Notre Dame press release about this here.

One Difference at a Time

Over ten days ago, I asked the question, “what do I have to show for all this?“. Things have been tough here. A few days ago, I waived a family member goodbye at the airport. Having come along to help me with this project, this family member ended up being hospitalized for both Dengue Fever and Typhoid. It was just too risky for her to continue to stay here. I haven’t got sick – but with the Muslim month of Ramadan (a period where Muslims don’t eat or drink any liquids during daylight hours) now in full swing, it is hard to move around the city. Dhaka seems to shut down way too early to really go anywhere.

But, I finally do have something to show for all this. And it starts with this photo:

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

This is a photo of a single mother of two I met while visiting a rural village in Bangladesh. Her husband died of a stomach related illness. She was not only left with two kids to raise on her own but also was left with loans from her husband’s medical expenses. When I went and saw where she was living – a small straw mudhut – I was taken aback. People in North America have more garage space for their cars than this lady had for her family of three. Not only that – but there was no electricity and only a small window near the floor which only served to prove how dark the inside of the house was.

I wanted to make a difference in her life. I knew I had money and stuff that I could give her that would help her. But making a difference is more than just being a parachute Santa Claus. I started talking to her. How is she doing? How is she paying for her son to go to school? Does she have medical expenses from her husband left over? How can your kids read in such a dark house? I tried my best not to tell her what she needed – and tried to figure out from her what I could do to help to make a difference in her life.

Maybe it’s the Fighting Irish in me, but the first thing that I decided to do was come up with a game plan.

More after the jump… Continue reading ‘One Difference at a Time’