15 November 2012

Africa: A Living Laboratory

Living in Ethiopia these past months has opened my eyes to some new things, and reminded my heart of known realities. The West uses the Rest for its own interest - and usually at a cost.

I was with some Peace Corps Volunteers in a coastal town of Albania in 2004 and wanted to buy some snacks for a day on the beach. We went  into a shop and foud that the only things available to purchase were expired cast-off processed food from Europe. The woman said the food had just arrived and she was able to buy it at a discount. Working in Macedonia in 2003 I come across bottles of pesticides long since banned in the West, but probably stockpiled in some warehouse, too expensive to dispose of, but being sold at a reasonable price to local farmers. 

When I used to write about environmental news, I came across stories about toxic waste being dumped secretly in Nigeria by Italy. Hazardous waste washing up on the shores of the Ivory Coast because of a tanker from the Netherlands purposely dumping offshore to save money and skirt regulations.

Candace Feit for The New York Times

I remember as a kid not being able to visit the beaches in Connecticut because someone had dumped medical waste in Long Island Sound and rats and needles were washing up all along the coastline. In the Bahamas, I walked for an hour along a beach covered in plastics and garbage washed up from cruiseliners dumping or losing garbage from around the world. It was interesting to catalog all the countries accounted for by the markings or language on the plastics. 

In Africa, I am confronted with another sort of using - the living laboratory. There are agronomists and pharmaceutical companies testing out theories in places where people trust. Are these scientists, researchers, corporations practicing ethical standards? How can we know for sure? Here is a NYT article about a new malaria vaccine that my friend sent on - some of the language about who was selected to participate in the experiment (children) and the vagueness of how the countries were convinced to take part make me wonder.  What exactly is going on?