Mighty Minds and Mysteries

Marla R. reminds us of the conspiracy theory surrounding the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon by sharing this video. While I don’t agree with its conclusions, it’s definitely worth a look. A couple of weeks after the 9/11 attack, I was at the Pentagon. It was hard to miss the enormous gash on its side, which was in direct contrast to the video’s assertion that the crash only created a tiny plane-sized hole. But, of course, by the time I got there, construction teams had already been hard at work modifying the scene. Here’s my pic of the scene:

pentagon

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the announcement by WHO of the launch of a new international commission studying the social determinants of poor global health. The commissioners present were former Minister Monique Begin and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. It was quite an inspiring presentation, given the brain power present in that room, and given their hilarious non-officious approach. Who knew Nobel prizewinners had such funny anecdotes? (As an aside, I was very impressed by the moderator, Evan Solomon, whom I’ve criticized in the past for a couple of bombastic statements he’s made on his TV shows. Evan, I was wrong about ye, and not just because you’ve mistakenly invited me on your shows twice.)

A topic was brought up which I believe deserves some reinforcement, specifically that the most important determinant of health in people is socioeconomic status (SES). It has resonance with something I once heard Jeffrey Sachs say in Washington, that we can talk all we want about roads, access to drugs and water, poor working conditions and access to doctors, but ultimately the one thing that will have a direct impact on people’s health is their poverty. Money is everything.

Money can buy clean water, good shoes, a doctor, a road, drugs and an education. Many of the interventions we do-gooders offer are essentially treatments meant to ameliorate the mid-points between money and good health. We send emergency drugs or provide some semblance of education or fund the occasional visits to remote areas by surgeons and opthalmologists. But these are, I’m afraid, stop-gap measures that will fail in the long run unless the big issue is tackled head on. That’s why, in my opinion, all development work, even health development work, must ultimately embrace poverty reduction as the Big Goal.

Of course, lifting a people out of poverty requires questionable investments in questionable schemes that underpin questionable theories. Remember shock therapy economics, that was supposed to kickstart the post-Soviet Russian economy? Aieee. And even the tenets of globalisation, which, to be honest, I’ve not yet decided how I feel about, are unproven as an anti-poverty ethic.

Then you have investments into the determinants of wealth, such as the World Bank’s fetish with energy production. So many dams have been built in the developing world, with the intention of providing cheap, clean energy to power local economic growth and allow sustained poverty reduction. But energy products bring with them their own kind of heck, with ecological destruction, pork barrel concerns, and social disruptions –and sometimes outright violence– brought about by attempts to control locals’ access to the new energy.

None of this is easy, which is why I’m glad that now the world’s mightiest minds have been put to this issue. Good luck to them all!