What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"There's this tiny fly for example..."

MStFB Backgrounder
"... we learn that despite all the vaccination we're not fully protected. There's this tiny fly for example..."
Those were words by reporter Krisztina Hadas, included in her report for the Sunday evening program Napló ('Diary') on the Hungarian channel TV2, about her visit to Baghlan Province, Afghanistan, where Hungary is running a PRT (the report was shown on May 6, and if you're Hungarian, you might want to see it, here). Since I've blogged a lot on this site about Afghanistan, I thought I should try and find out about this 'tiny fly' (since it wasn't named in the report).
A female Hungarian soldier said some rather dreadful things about the consequences this fly's bite might have, so, with the words 'you're flesh is going to show', imprinted on my mind, I did look around, and came across a Reuters report (that you can find e.g. here), and, using the information there, this Wikipedia article.
So the disease is leishmaniasis. It is spread by sandflies that feed on humans, dogs or e.g. gerbils (a rodent species). The sandflies carry parasites - those get in under one's skin when one is bitten. These parasites are 'protozoan parasites that belong to the genus Leishmania', says Wikipedia. The name for the disease, 'leishmaniasis', comes from William Boog Leishman, a Scottish pathologist, who (along with Charles Donovan in India) discovered the parasites themselves in 1903, in the form of oval bodies found in a patient who died from 'kala azar', the most severe form of leishmaniasis. The latter is also known as visceral leishmaniasis, which, unlike cutaneous leishmaniasis (the more ordinary form of the disease), doesn't infect the skin only, but may spread to vital organs in the host body, potentially causing organ failure and death.
According to Wikipedia altogether some 350 million people live in areas worldwide where they are at risk from infection. The more brutal visceral leishmaniasis happens mostly in places in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sudan and Brazil. Nevertheless cutaneous leismaniasis is not to be underestimated in significance, for it can enormously disfigure people, for example their faces, if left untreated. And so it causes a lot of mental suffering.
Recently the Western world showed a bit more attention to the issue, after American soldiers experienced some 650 cases between March, 2003 and late 2004 alone, in Iraq. During 2004, the Colombian army had some 3,400 infections while it carried out operations in the jungle, and NATO in Afghanistan reported about 150 cases for 2005. As British researcher Toby Leslie says in the Reuters report, leishmaniasis "will thrive in post-war areas and areas where there's poor sanitation, poor community services". The sandflies are happy to find their home in rubbish and wastelands, so they are rather well off in Kabul, for example, a town that is experiencing the worst outbreak of leishmaniasis in recent years, in global terms, mainly as a result of poorly organised waste collection. Insect-repellants and the use of bed nets can provide protection, but soldiers are notorious of not following these sort of instructions very carefully, and the local population is under-supplied with both of those means of protection (and the most deprived among them may not even know of the threat).
Here you can read about the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) which among other things fights against leishmaniasis, too. I find it heart-warming that such an initiative even exists. (Medical research institutes from Kenya, Malaysia, India and France as well as for example Médecins sans Frontières and the UNDP are involved in the program - see the list of 'neglected diseases' it fights against.)
Since it aims at mitigating threats that may potentially reach everyone (even if risks are not even), it seems logical to include increased support for this initiative in a global governance program of what I call 'co-operative threat reduction', or CTR. I'm using this expression in reference to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which, since the beginning of the 1990s, is producing arguably converging gains for most of us, by countering unchecked nuclear proliferation in the post-Soviet space. There are numerous issues in a great number of areas where measures similar in nature may be contemplated. And I will of course keep discussing those on this site.

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