Ever wonder what makes MANA think we can use terms like”eradicate” when referring to severe acute malnutrition? Here’s why I defend the ambition, however impossibly bold – or even “nauseating” – it may seem:
The Carter Center Task Force for disease Eradication is an effort for which I have great respect because they walk into work every day with an optimistic world view that says, “We can do it!”. Inspired by the achievement of the grandiose dream of eradicating Small Pox in 1977, they spent years studying various diseases and concluded that there are seven which could be eliminated with concerted efforts. Severe acute malnutrition is a specific condition in the same way that small pox is a disease. SAM affects more than 13 million kids under 5 annually, but in the 20th century an estimated 300-500 million people died of Small pox! In the 1950’s it was estimated that 50 million cases occurred each year. As late as 1967, the World Health Organization estimated that 15 million people contracted small pox and 2 million died!
In the 1930’s and 40’s, talk of eradicating Small Pox would have been viewed as irresponsible and “nauseatingly” ambitious drivel. Fortunately there were pioneers bold enough not to listen. In 1958 Professor Viktor Zhadanov of the USSR called for the effort to eradicate it, and in 1959 the WHO accepted the resolution. Many scoffed, but American Don Henderson was later selected to lead the charge… and succeeded!
It’s a little-known fact that George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Mozart and Beethoven all contracted and (thankfully) survived small pox. How many Mozarts did Don Henderson help save by buying into a claim that should have inspired nausea in the pragmatists of the day?
We at MANA feel that it is feasible to think that we could – through a great, global, coordinated effort – put a stop to the plague of babies who die every day simply because they lack basic food. Our desire to eradicate something so big is passionate and optimistic; we’re approaching our goal with the Carter Center-type optimism that is required to fight and win against a daunting foe.
Mark Moore is the co-founder and CEO of MANA. He writes and speaks an equal volume of insights on an hourly basis.