Following on from the discussion yesterday about aid, particularly in the South Pacific another reader emailed his experiences in the 1960s in Africa.
Hi Whaleoil Team,
The current debate in your blog on the moral ethics of what has now become the ‘Aid Industry’ reminds me of the fascinating (but probably valueless) years I spent giving ‘Aid’ in several third-world countries.
My rather ominous introduction came when we arrived at the headquarters of the aid organisation in Accra, Ghana in the days when the country was a bankrupt communist dictatorship under the regime of Kwame Nkumah.¬† The local head of the aid organisation I was to work for, a Scandinavian, asked us not to take photos of the headquarters campus as ‘People back home might not understand’. What he was referring to were the palatial houses the administrators (all Europeans or Americans) lived in.¬† ¬†The one long-serving couple, who actually lived in a tiny single-bedroom house which used to be servant’s quarters, told us they first lived in a mud-brick house and made their own furniture from the wood of their packing cases.¬† How things had changed!
I spent three years working up country and finished up very cynical about it all.¬† The hospital I worked at had two doctors and served about a quarter of a million people.¬† Our own figures indicated that probably 50% of the children born were dead by the age of 5 years. What killed them were the Big Three – Malaria – Measles – Malnutrition.¬† The annual measles epidemic early each year would kill between 100 and 150 children (that we knew about!) in our area.¬† Most of these children would arrive at the hospital dead or dying, generally from a combination of pneumonia and sickle-cell crisis triggering heart failure.¬† There was effectively nothing we could do.¬† We didn’t even have an oxygen supply.
Incidentally, the ‘official’ figures for infant mortality were much lower.¬† Of course these were derived only from recorded deaths in the major cities – Accra and Kumasi – and, since death registration was optional, probably under-reported even these.
Of course the local women would have possibly 10 to 15 pregnancies and most would result in live births.¬† The fact that they would only raise about half of these children was accepted as normal.
We offered – rather limited – birth control advice but, apart from a miniscule number of educated Ghanaians, it wasn’t used.¬† Cultural reasons – such as the fact that a man’s status in the community was raised by the number of children he fathered – ensured that women did nothing to prevent repeated pregnancy.¬† Polygamy was legal, though less common than you might think since bride-price meant getting wives was expensive.
As was pointed out in one of the comments in your blog, it was disaster trying to save these children unless matched by measures to limit the birthrate.¬† Starvation was a daily fact-of-life. ‘Kwashiorkor’, due to protein starvation in children getting adequate calories, was named after the Ghanaian word for the disease.¬† It, unfortunately, has irreversibly damaged the brain by the time it is diagnosed.¬† I saw many, many cases of it. ¬† ¬† Read more »