Letters: Tropical diseases

The disabling tropical diseases the rich world ignores

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Sir: A global network of tropical disease experts, economists and heads of public-private partnerships have implicated 13 parasitic and bacterial infections as potent and disabling forces that keep the world's most destitute people in poverty. These neglected tropical diseases such as hookworm, schistosomiasis, elephantiasis, river blindness and trachoma are chronic conditions that delay or block childhood development, cause adverse outcomes in pregnancy, and impair worker productivity. They also cause disfigurement.

With the realisation that they are responsible for massive disability in sub- Saharan Africa, and elsewhere in the developing world, a community of tropical disease specialists has identified the neglected tropical diseases as a fourth member of an unholy alliance, together with "the big three" diseases - HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis. Unlike the big three, however, the neglected tropical diseases have so far remained largely ignored by the G8 governments. For example, there was no mention of these conditions in a declaration from the inaugural meeting of the G8 health ministers held on 28 April.

One important consequence of G8 neglect is that the large-scale global health funding initiatives designed to help lift the developing world out of poverty, such as the Global Fund for HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, and malaria, and the President's Emergency Program for Aids Relief do not recognise the neglected tropical diseases as worthy of intervention. This is astonishing when we consider that the drugs for treating some of the most burdensome neglected tropical diseases are now donated free of charge by four of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies - GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Pfizer. Together, the donated drugs could be delivered in a tightly designed "rapid impact" package for less than $1 per person per year.

New data shows that the neglected tropical diseases promote a person's susceptibility to malaria and Aids and consequently reduce the beneficial impact of antiretroviral and antimalarial drugs.

The major public-private partnerships devoted to the neglected tropical diseases have recently advocated the delivery of a rapid impact disease package for a tiny fraction of the costs required to procure and deliver interventions for the big three diseases. Simultaneously, we need to scale up the production of the rapid impact drugs in order to ensure an adequate supply chain for the hundreds of millions of people living on less than $2 per day who suffer from these diseases.



Ministers clash with the courts

Sir: The attempt of both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary John Reid to browbeat the courts over the deportation of the Afghan hijackers is astounding.

Far from being "inexplicable" (J Reid) or "an abuse of common sense" (T Blair) the decision of the High Court is an eminently sensible one. After all it has been a constant policy of Mr Blair's friends in this and previous US administrations not to return Cuban hijackers to Cuba.

The Afghan hijackers used the threat of violence to escape from the Taliban regime. Britain and the USA used violence to invade the country and remove the Taliban. What principle, apart from his continued hostility to asylum seekers, is Mr Blair and his echo chamber Home Secretary espousing? It surely can't be a principled opposition to violence in pursuit of political goals.

The idea that Afghanistan is now safe for returning refugees, especially those who have been opposed to the Taliban forces now roaming the country, is laughable. It is to be hoped that the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords will show their contempt for this despicable little campaign .



Sir: The problem with legislating for human rights is that they are not absolute, as is often supposed, but relative to other human rights. The right to security is qualified by the rights of accused criminals. The right to dispose of one's own money is qualified by the rights of others to social services. And so on.

These conflicts of rights need an authority to adjudicate between them, and historically that role has been performed by Parliament and by the legislation that Parliament enacts.

The Human Rights Act transferred the primary responsibility for adjudicating between human rights from Parliament to the judiciary. This has given the judges what are in effect legislative powers, and a degree of discretion which they did not previously exercise.

Judges have been asked to take decisions on points of principle which were previously the domain of Parliament or ministers, with sometimes unwelcome results. This consequence was foreseen, and should have more seriously considered when the Human Rights Act was passed.



Key facts in row over sewage works

Sir: Lynne Strover from Fen Ditton (letter, 4 May) gives a compelling account of how a replacement site for the Cambridge Sewage Works is being foisted on the local community. However she is misguided in a number of her key facts.

She says the proposal was a well kept secret until February. In fact, the likely area of search for a new works has been released for initial comment at the earliest possible stage, before any plans are formulated.

She says that the estimated cost of £100,000,000 would be borne by the tax-payer. In fact the negotiation on how the move would be funded through the proceeds of the redevelopment of the existing site has still to take place. The final cost is still unclear and if it were prohibitive the relocation would not occur.

She says that Mr Prescott has gagged our parish councils. In fact the County Council as waste and minerals planning authority has initiated the consultation to give parishes and other stakeholders an opportunity to make their views known before plans are drawn up.

The waste and minerals plan has to go through several stages of drafting before any proposals can be confirmed. There will also be a public inquiry held by an independent inspector. A planning application would be needed before work could commence on any development. If it were to go ahead the county council would expect it to be subject to the highest standard of design and environmental performance in keeping with its location, wherever that may be.



No apology for the slave trade

Sir: I cannot see that an apology is necessary over slavery (letters, 13 May). Conditions for the common people in this country of the time were not all that much different. Child chimney sweeps, children in mines, transportation and all types of industrial workers come to mind. I do not believe that the majority of factory owners were much different from the plantation owners in exploiting their workers. They just did not have to feed them.



Sir: I was appalled to read Debbie Jones's comments on Colston's Girls' School (13 May). I am proud and grateful to have attended this excellent grammar school; the education I received there made all the difference to my life and so to the well-being of the many children I have since taught.

Of course I hate the thought of the slave trade, as I do many of the barbaric practices going on today, but I am still grateful to Edward Colston for the schools he founded. We do not know how we would have acted had we been alive then.

Does Debbie Jones refuse to sing "Amazing Grace" because it was written by John Newton, a former slave trader?



Sir: One of my 17th-century relatives, Oxenbridge Foyle, together with Marcellus Rivers and others, was sent to Barbados to be sold as a slave to work on the sugar plantations without being convicted of any crime, thanks to Oliver Cromwell and his crew. I shall be writing shortly to Tony Blair to request an apology.



Overrun by mouses

Sir: Having attempted the techie quiz in Saturday's Independent, I have just discovered that a mouse (with respect to computers) is an acronym. "Mouses" (letter, 15 May) is therefore an appropriate plural, although not when applied to a member of the order Rodentia.



Eating on the net

Sir: In her article about Charles Campion (11 May), Deborah Ross says: "He [Campion] further adds that you should never, ever trust internet reviews. 'Restaurants watch the sites and if they get a bad review they merely write two or three new ones to push the dodgy one out of sight.' " I would like to assure your readers that we at london-eating easily spot such things (we have our secret techie ways) and reject them. Very rarely does even one such "review" get through.



Blair's great betrayal

Sir: Alec Scott (letter, 12 May) hazards that domestic factors rather than the Iraq war account for the Labour leader's unpopularity. But the war was a towering crime which dwarfs all the other mischief made by New Labour and outweighs any decent achievements. Nothing this government has done or can do - except resign and submit its warlords to an international war crimes tribunal - can weigh in the balance against that betrayal of human decency and international obligation.



Church sophistry

Sir: To claim that natural family planning is not a form of contraception (Letters, 15 May) nor an attempt to frustrate conception is simply dishonest. The tendency of the Catholic church to indulge in this kind of theological sophistry has lost it the respect of large numbers of people both inside and outside the church.



Ancient text

Sir: Andrew Buncombe writes (Magazine, 13 May) that "O ye frost and cold, O ye ice and snow, Bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever" are "lines of verse, specially written by Tennyson". Oh no, they're not. They are to be found in Thomas Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer (1649) and are a part of the Benedicite, which, when I was young, was recited at Matins during Lent, instead of the Te Deum. If you want to read another, similar, translation, look in the Book of Daniel.



Banana torture

Sir: The Dave Brown cartoon of 15 May showed an unsafe act. I have measured the electrical resistance of a typical banana, which is 1.6 ohms. A power supply of 5,000 volts connected in series across the ends of a banana would give a current of 3,125 amps, more than sufficient to cause the banana to boil violently and then burst into flame, creating a fire hazard. To conduct the procedure safely, one terminal of the power supply should be connected to the banana, while the other terminal is connected to the victim.



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