Eradicate it at the Source, si de Plagas se Trata
With Disease or Corruption, Seek the Cause, Don’t Just Treat the Symptoms

July 27th, 2012
by Robert Armstrong

If this issue of the Voice has a unifying theme, it is plagues, whether of the physiological or the societal variety.

In this month’s Speaking Out column, George Crimmin concludes his three-part series on malaria. Malaria, which is unfortunately common on the Bay Islands, is a deadly disease with no cure or vaccine. It can only be prevented or controled. Last month George informed us that recent research indicated malaria killed 1.2 million people worldwide in 2010 – twice the number previously estimated by the World Health Organization.

George concludes on a somewhat gloomy note this month, suggesting the UN goal of eradicating malaria worldwide by 2015 may be impossible, and in fact malaria could “come roaring back” as a result of the global financial crisis. However, under Island News we report  two Duke University undergraduates are looking into trying a new biocontrol strategy against malaria on Roatan that gives reason for considerably greater optimism.

Up until now, options available for combating malaria have all had significant drawbacks:

* Avoid getting bit: Easier said than done on Roatan.

* Take Chloroquine: Doesn’t always work, and can have serious side-effects, especially if taken for long periods.

* “Drain the swamp”: Eliminating mosquito habitat can damage ecosystems.

* Spray with DDT: Highly destructive to the environment.

In contrast, the new strategy being promoted by the Duke students uses biological methods to make it impossible for mosquitoes to infect people in the first place. A bacteria is implanted into a mosquito that blocks that mosquito’s ability to transmit malaria to people, even if it is infected with the malaria microbe. That mosquito is then released into the wild to breed and pass that trait along to its offspring. Given the short lifespan and breeding cycle of the mosquito, this method could conceivably breed the ability to spread malaria out of an entire population of mosquitoes in a very short period of time. It sounds almost too good to be true, and thus maybe it isn’t. But it is certainly worth a try.

There may be lessons these mosquitoes can teach us about dealing with the major societal plagues afflicting Honduras at the moment – crime and corruption. It is doubtful we can breed corruption out of the human race. Corruption exists everywhere in varying forms and degrees (case in point, US campaign finance). Christian teaching is that all of us are corruptible (but redeemable). But we can perhaps create conditions that reduce the motive and opportunity for corruption (draining the swamp, so to speak), or, as with the experimental mosquitoes, equip people with what they need to not be corrupt, that is to say to perform their jobs and feed their families honestly.

Which brings us to this month’s main feature – “You Get What You Pay For.”

With the Honduran murder rate reaching the top of the world charts, people are naturally focusing a lot of attention on the performance of the National Police. On the Bay Islands, although crime is not nearly as bad as on the Mainland, complaining about the police is just as common, if not more so, perhaps in part because they all come from someplace else.

National politicians are talking about “purifying” (depurar) the police, i.e. weed out the bad ones, leading some to joke that there would be none left to patrol the streets and others to wonder who would do the weeding out (old ethnic joke: Q: Why wasn’t Christ born in [insert country you wish to denigrate]; A: They couldn’t find three wise men). This is a bit like spraying with DDT. It may work for a while, but as soon as you stop spraying, the pests come back and resume their malaria-spreading ways. Or, as with Chloroquine, over time the pests adapt and become resistant to it.

As with malaria, people employ a variety of strategies to cope with corruption:

* Go with the flow: like getting malaria, which is usually not fatal, only debilitating.

* Avoid getting bit: minimize contact with officialdom.

* Take your medicine: pay the bribes and hope for the best.

* Wipe them out: identify and punish the corrupt.

* Drain the swamp: alter the conditions that foster corruption.

The last may be the most difficult, but it is the only one likely to reduce corruption in a meaningful and sustainable way. Corruption flourishes where there is motive (lousy pay, low morale), opportunity (inadequate or distant supervision) and impunity (nobody gets caught). Unfortunately, based on what several police separately told our correspondent, at least the first two of those factors appear to be present to some degree in the island police force. Better pay, conditions, equipment and training may improve their performance. But as long as they are supervised by a distant and disinterested capital and there is mutual mistrust between the police and the populace, problems are likely to persist.

Like eradicating malaria, improving law enforcement on  the islands may require some new ideas and non-traditional methods.

(Para leer este artículo en español, imprima aquí)

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