Monday, October 17, 2011


A recent edition of the New York Times science section was (if we would but pay attention) a cautionary tale for citizens of the United States. The section contained articles about low cost innovations that are reaping profound benefits for thousands with less access to medical advances.

  • One was a piece of paper, the size of a postage stamp, that can identify an illness from a drop of blood.

  • In Bangladesh, folded saris used to filter river water reduce the rate of cholera.

  • Village Health Volunteers in Thailand have significantly reduced childhood deaths.

  • AIDS patients in Mozambique use relay teams to collect lifesaving medication.

  • Vitamins you can sprinkle on food now help prevent childhood malnutrition in Mongolia.

  • Other scientists have found nectar toxic to mosquitoes thus combating malaria.

In contrast, people in this country have now virtually abandoned one of the greatest of the disease-preventing tools – the bar of soap. “Lo, a simple good thing has been tweaked until it is no longer simple. Instead of soap we now have a gigantic selection of luridly colored products augmented with every variety of additional germ killer imaginable. … And no one has managed to prove that any of them controls infection rates in a hospital (or for that matter, in a home) better than universal, assiduous scrubbing with regular, inexpensive, plain old soap.”

Evidently, as the rest of the world moves toward simpler, less expensive solutions, we here in the United States hurtle ourselves toward ever more complicated (and more expensive) remedies.

This is not universally true of course but there’s enough truth in it to warrant some second thoughts. Or third.

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