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AIDS IN AFRICA CONSIDERED TO BE CIVILISATION’S DISEASE HUBER C.*       

AIDS IN AFRICA, CONSIDERED TO BE CIVILISATION‘S DISEASE (cont.). From Gabon to South Africa, news from the Cape of Good Hope    

Intermediate evaluation in the year 2000 of Rixheim's bilingual schools with equal hours in French and German, from trying to save a regional language, the Alsatian, to instilling the respect of European and World cultures and heritage : children of Alsace and citizens of the World ?

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                In http://www.afrik.com/ april 2001 : a web site for health, a web site against AIDS. Doctor Christian Huber launches a new assault via the Web on the curse which is ravaging Africa. A fight for life, a web page against death. On his return from Gabon, the young doctor puts the Web to good use.

18/04/01 : " This site exists thanks to my son. He used to spend all his time in front of the screen playing with electronic games ", laughs Dr Christian Huber. In 1985, the young, newly-qualified, Alsation hospital interne chose to do his military service in Libreville. " In Port-Gentil at the time, only 1% of the population was effected by AIDS. Now, nearly one in ten of the population is HIV positive ", says the pediatrician full of indignation. And the Web plays a role in prevention campaigns. " Internet allows people who have never met to better harmonise their initiatives ". The useful Internet.

Gabon is striving for health

Crusade against AIDS. The site offers lots of information on AIDS in Africa, with the personal experiences of Doctor Christian Huber, and interesting links on this subject. " During my first stay in Gabon, as a pediatrician at the Port Gentil hospital in 1985 and 1986, the subject was just beginning to be broached. Having returned to Africa in 1993, I was able to take another look at the local health conditions with my colleagues from Port-Gentil …the spread of AIDS, they call it the "short disease", which speaks for itself…This disease is the result of the deadlock reached in the country's health policies (currently, approx. 5% of Gabonese adults are infected by the HIV) ".

The personal initiative of Christian Huber and the creation of this web site, are to combat the "short disease". An example to be followed.   Mohamed Berkani  

AIDS IN AFRICA CONSIDERED TO BE CIVILISATION’S DISEASE HUBER C.*

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Victimes de la mondialisation. Jean de La Fontaine 1621-1695

         In Africa, Aids remains a lesser known and less studied reality than elsewhere in the world. There are few reliable statistics, very few precise numbers,hence the people are badly informed. During my first stay in Gabon, as a pediatrician at the Port Gentil hospital in 1985 and 1986, the subject was only
just beginning to be broached. Having returned to Gabon in 1993, I was able to take another look at the local health conditions with my colleagues from Port Gentil. At the end of my stay, I took part in a programme for the Gabon Radio Television in Libreville, the subject was : Christians in the face of Aids.


        There were no improvements to be seen in the pediatric, surgical or resuscitation facilities. Yet undeniable progress had been made for the children, due in particular to vaccinations. Tetanus has practically disappeared among new-born babies and children, and there is a clear decrease in the number of cases of measles and poliomyelitis. On the other hand, though progress has been made through preventative measures, there has been no improvement in resources nor in eating habits. We are shown many small, undernourished infants with discoloured hair and bloated stomachs caused by a lack of calories, proteins and vitamins. The most striking regression in the health sector is the expansion of Aids. It is referred to here as the " short disease ", a
name which tells its own story … At the time of my first stay Aids was little known, this disease is the result of the deadlock reached in the country’s health policies.


           Back in Alsace, I reopened Schweitzer’s book " A l’orée de la forêt vierge " (At the edge of the virgin forest) asking myself if at the time, at the beginning of the century, he had to confront similar difficulties related not directly to medicine, but to the state of the civilisation. What forces come to thwart the efforts of development ? It is civilisation itself that is unwell. To be more precise, colonisation and world commerce have broken down the African societies. The tragedy is that " often not only do the interests of civilisation and those of colonisation not converge, they actually diverge and work against each other ".Indeed the Africans’need have been thoughtlessly increased, not to encourage their development, but to subjugate them. " Merchants increase the natives’needs by offering them useful products such as fabrics and tools, but they also offer useless products such as tobacco and toiletries or even harmful products such as alcohol … The progress of civilisation would be better served by leaving the inhabitants of the virgin forest in their villages and encouraging them to learn relevant skills, planning and managing plantations, cultivating cacao and coffee trees fortheir own needs and as well as for trade, building timber or brick houses, instead of bamboo huts, and so leaving them to have a settled, tranquil
existence … The urban areas of native workers are centres of demoralisation."


         What was writen in 1920 may seem to be antiquated, reactionary. But what is to be seen now, in the " matitis " (shanty towns) around Libreville, these ramshackle collections of planks and corrugated iron, where an uprooted population is crammed in ? . " Sources of demoralisation " in all senses of the
word. Daring to denounce it in his book " Les matitis " 128 pages, published by Sépia, 1992, H.F.Ndong Mbeng gives us a first-hand account. Aids arises from this anarchic urbanisation, adding to the curses of centuries past : tuberculosis, syphilis, alcoholism, famine. There is nothing natural about
these diseases and the adversity faced, they accompany the misery and solitude, the atomisation of communities due to the rural exodus and the rupture of ancient solidarity that no " social security " system can replace here. In these so-called " working-class " neighbourhoods, the shanty towns, they don’t even have the right to basic healthcare, nor education, nor even a minimum of information. Our resources seem totally inadequate when
considering how globalisation is diminishing the control we have over the steam roller of modern capitalism, which is responsible for so many diseases and deaths on every continent. We are not marching towards an idyllic " global village ", more to a world " megapole " : a few beautiful islands of prosperity in an ocean of matitis. Can we continue to accept the worsening imbalance affecting the great majority, just in order to help the breathtaking
enrichment of a minority ? Time seems to be working against the great majority of the inhabitants of our planet.



          In South Africa the proportion of pregnant women infected with the Aids virus is doubling every year and will soon reach 10% (with rates ten times higher in the deprived regions than in the affluent regions). In Tanzania, where the proportion of adults affected by the virus is above 10%, some people are putting up an intelligent and tenacious fight. They are warning the countries that are on their way to joining the sinister procession (for example those in Central Africa). They are refusing to accept the fate of the epidemic, which they have compared to a flood, and think that many people will be able to survive if they clamber aboard the boats that are within their reach : abstinence, faithfulness and condoms. Spectacular progress using Tritherapy enables those affected to live longer and reduces the risks of transmission between mother and child. Unfortunaltely, due to its cost, it is unlikely to become available in Africa in the near future. And so the Aids problem highlights the world situation, the globalisation of inequality and the economic divisions of the contemporary world.

 Acknowledgements F.LASSENY, R. RIBIERE , M.C.HUBER , P.LALLEMANT, The French Association of the friends of A. SCHWEITZER (J.P.SORG, O.PRINTZ, F.ISCH) and J.MUHEIM.

AIDS IN AFRICA, CONSIDERED TO BE CIVILISATION‘S DISEASE (cont.). From Gabon to South Africa, news from the Cape of Good Hope

           AIDS really does reveal the weaknesses of contemporary humanity (refer to part one*). It is surely in Africa, more precisely in its megapoles that these appear most contrasted. Imagine we are immediately given several options as a result of this pandemic disease:

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are we simply scrupulous spectators carefully mapping the advances of a foreseeable catastrophy, or do we perhaps prefer to avoid looking at the unbearable?

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or rather, are we individually and collectively still capable of reacting efficiently in order to take up one of the great challenges facing mankind at the dawn of the 21st century?

         One can but be amazed by the acceleration of progress in communication technology in the age of the computer; as far as HIV is concerned, we will soon be able to follow the development of the rate of seropositive infection in the smallest bush village or shanty town, see the Internet site ONUSIDA: http://www.unaids.org/ . And yet, this pandemic disease is spreading inexorably, with varying rapidity depending on the country, or more importantly the region, or even the town or neighbourhood…Daily, this pandemic disease demonstrates that if we are sincerely interested in the rebirth of Civilisation, that´s to say our childrens´ future, we would be well-inspired to try and develop a greater personal code of ethics before taking on responsabilities in economic, scientific, social or other domains. Does the future of humanity, and maybe even the future of the planet, not depend first and foremost on a multitude of individual changes? How can one try to understand the suddenness of the spread of AIDS during the nineties in East and South Africa, to the point of affecting between one in ten and one in four adults? The most important factor is of course poverty, but poverty does not explain everything, far from it. One must only look at the rate of infection in Madagascar, which is just as impoverished as its continental neighbours, but where HIV is pratically inexistent in 1999.

        One can also see these contrasts in the urbanism of the large southern megalopoles like Cape Town, where I recently had the opportunity to discuss the first part of this article with my pediatrician colleagues. There, two worlds face each other, more than they cohabit, with on the one hand the opulent neighbourhoods on the coast and, on the other hand, the constantly expanding shanty towns inland. They meet more or less pacifically in the town centre, but also at the roadside during the obligatory stops…It goes without saying how great the sense of insecurity is for those who have a job, a car or simply a house. There is no lack of people wishing to emmigrate...Why is this young nation such a good example of the worst and of the best to be found? Many observers think that in a way it foreshadows 21st century Africa. Closing the gap between Africa, the East and the West seemed to be impossible at the time of apartheid. High hopes are now pinned on the building of a new nation, multiethnic, a rainbow nation, on the ruins of apartheid. There is an undeniable change of priorities with vast programmes of council housing, as well as support for primary education and basic health care; the aim being to try and give everyone a fair chance. It would be a tragedy not just for this country, but maybe for the whole world, if these hopes were dashed and political apartheid were to be replaced by an economical form of apartheid.

        Here, as elsewhere, the ultra-liberal rules clearly produce positive short-term financial results, but with a social and ecological price to be paid in the long term. Here we have, as is often the case in Africa, a caricature of the world´s economic system, favouring immediate speculative profit to the detriment of the real country, its inhabitants and their environment. Should we not urgently be trying to better protect the weakest, especially the women and children of this continent, from the ferocious forces of the strong. Would it not be better to start again by taking action and speaking out with an ethical renewal in mind, which would place the very yougest of human beings at the centre of the decision-makers´ concerns, in line with the Enlightenment idealism ?

     - To ensure that the economical success of the merchants, reduced by globalisation, does not render them totalitarian as regards their human and natural environment.

   - To restore to the government the means to become a real public service once again, with the power to secure the nation´s social cohesion.

       - To guarantee religions the liberty of developing an ethical sense within all human beings, each religion in its own way but with reciprocal respect for one another´s beliefs.

      "Let´s not expect anything from the 21st century, the 21st century is expecting everything from us" said Frederico Mayor in "A New World" (published by UNESCO, 1999). Has humanity a chance of survival without a spiritual rebirth? Is the foundation of this rebirth not ethical revival? And what if this ethical revival were to come to us from Africa? Let us hope that the Cape, which is reputed among the navigators of the whole world for the beauty of its site and its welcome (the fairest cape…), becomes once again the Cape of Good Hope for the whole continent.

*AIDS in Africa, considered to be civilisation´s disease (Etudes schweitzeriennes, journal of the French Association of the friends of Albert Schweitzer n° 8, published by Oberlin)

 

Intermediate evaluation in the year 2000 of Rixheim's bilingual schools with equal hours in French and German, from trying to save a regional language, the Alsatian, to instilling the respect of European and World cultures and heritage : children of Alsace and citizens of the World ?

                For many observers, the twenty-first century started in 1989, the year in which the anniversary of the 1789 French revolution was celebrated. Throughout the world, sometimes happy but more often tragic events have followed this commemoration. The first associative bilingual classes with equal hours in French and German were created shortly afterwards in Alsace, at the beginning of the 1990s, on the initiative of the schoolchildren's parents with the support of all the Alsatian communities. The central pedagogical principal of these classes is based on the alternative use of both languages for equal hours as the 'working' language. Later, pushed by this movement, the French national education system took over. The French psycho-linguist Jean Petit, himself bilingual in French and Béarnaise, and a professor at Reims and Constance universities, was chosen to lead this Alsatian " innovation ". Having had the opportunity to review the situation with him with 10 years hindsight, we can now conclude with the neutral observers of the French national education system that the evaluation is mainly positive despite several foreseeable instances of institutional resistance. To start with it was an innovative regional project, really arising from the expectations of a large part of the population. It had to make its way between the ideologies and the laisser-faire which so often hinder advances in all domains. In my opinion, it is a good illustration of the tension that exists in France between the centralising tradition and that of decentralisation and an opening towards Europe. Alsace has always been well placed to feel the European "pulse": crossroads or battlefield

                 After the first years in nursery school, when the children progressively learn the 2nd language, German, a good quality of understanding and expression in this language (both oral and written) can be observed from primary school onwards and they have a real bi-cultural openness well before secondary school. Other pleasing results are shown in the statistics of the numerous pedagogical evaluations carried out during schooling : a better knowledge of mathematics, improved French, a taste for other languages and they are more open-minded. Looking at numbers, at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, 40% of nursery school children and around 8% of primary school children (the pioneers from 1992…) were following this curriculum in Rixheim, from the first nursery year (3 year olds) to the last year of primary school (11 year olds) ! This project is rather original, especially for a country which is organised by a powerful and very centralised public authority as is the case in France :

-first of all, it is an authentic regional initiative based on Alsatian economic and cultural needs,

-secondly, it was continually necessary to look for a consensus (which is still ongoing…) between the expectations of the children and their parents, the teachers and the local, national and sometimes even European political and administrative authorities.

            These particularities explain its forces and its weaknesses : it is strongly supported by its main promoters, the families and the voluntary French and German teachers; but it is at the mercy of the resistance and changing opinions encountered at various levels within the authorities and their goodwill remains necessary to implement the decisions taken by their predecessors. It must be noted that there is quite a country-wide default in continual debate, sometimes interminable even when a consensus is reached and implementation is decided upon …Also the difficulties reforms face in our country where initiatives usually come from the "top of the pyramid", and are then passed towards the "base" which does not happen without being distorted to a greater or lesser extent depending on the realities of the terrain …In the reverse situation there is a lot of co-ordination work to do to ensure that the local and national authorities can continue to work, if possible harmoniously. What have we learnt in ten years ? On the one hand, with children results can only be achieved, whatever their level, with teamwork and lots of time. This continuity in time and space must include: the child, its extended family, its teachers and the environment outside of school (a whole historical and geographical context which defines a village, a region or a country…).

               On the other hand, this experience is tackling one of the essential domains of citizenship, the possibility for an individual to integrate a community without the obligation of totally assimilating one language, a single culture and somehow be exclusive. This is a fundamental fact of the preservation of a more autonomous identity that does not only depend on exterior factors. It is troubling to see that this increased need for liberty and identity has become almost universal at the dawn of the 21st century from Transkei to Berlin via the Chiapas or even numerous French regions (notably Corsica)! Some saw it as a withdrawal which could encourage inter-ethnic conflicts, even Pan-Germanism ! Is it not just as dangerous to deny an individual's personal history in favour of belonging to a fixed historical model (that of the 1789 French revolution) or a " globalised " world which appears most often only as a gigantic supermarket ? In passing we must note the cultural evolution in our former colonies, where the links with the former authorities are no longer systematically rejected and instead the importance of the pre-colonial History is being rediscovered (for example the new concept of French, a language for sharing in the French-speaking world without being the unique and therefore dominating language …). Is the current rather romantic fashion of going back to the " roots ", to the village or the forest for some …, not a more profound interogation regarding the future of our Western civilisation, caught up in an alarming acceleration ? Can local language and culture still play a role of mental protection in the face of the dispersion and sometimes confusion provoked by the complexity and the frustrations of the modern world, with nostalgia but without attachment to the past ? Whatever the case may be, we can only hope that the positive first results of the bilingual schools with equal hours in French and German encourage the Alsatians to persevere in this avant-garde educational project which is a step towards an appeased Alsace at the heart of a united Europe (from the psychoanalysis of Alsace to its psychotherapy…). These also demonstrate to France that only a reasonable openness to neighbouring or far-away cultures will allow it to progress and to be faithful to its historical vocation of being a meeting place for the peoples of the whole world. Will the shepherd let himself be lead just once by the sheep? One year away from the definitive introduction of the euro, we have scored a first try ; now it has to be converted !

Christian Huber, paediatrician, town councillor delegated to bilingualism and to the regional language and culture in Rixheim, member of the High Committee of Reference for the Alemanic and Frankish language and culture.

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