Letter: Zaire: inaction is no solution

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The Independent Online
Richard Dowden rightly points out that good intentions in Central Africa subsequently contributed to crises such as that now faced by the region ("Good intentions on the road to Hell", 3 November). He is also right that many of those who were helped in the refugee camps around Goma, some suffering from cholera and dysentry, were directly involved in the Rwandan genocide. However I find it disturbing that he should imply that medical intervention is inappropriate in such circumstances.

His general theme is that it may be better to let Africans sort out the problems and for the West to intervene afterwards. In most complex emergencies, he is correct in saying that medical intervention is initiated after the combatants have left the field. However in the same way that political prevention of a crisis is a viable option, so is preventative public health. It is difficult for the medical profession to accept the idea that nothing can or should be done. It is a denial of basic humanitarian instincts. Problems are undoubtedly caused by inappropriate action but inaction is not the solution.

After the extermination of the Jews prominent Nazis were tried at Nuremberg. In Rwanda the UN tribunal still faces delays. Western aid helped to rebuild Germany. Few would have seen interring Nazis in their own concentration camps as a moral solution to the problem.

Dr Charles Easmon

London SW11

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