Letters to Eureka Street

Hysterical flu

The June Eureka Street drew attention to a number of the social, economic and public health issues associated with the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. What it did not give, however, was a critique of the hysteria surrounding this outbreak. Indeed, the hype around SARS overwhelmed all our media outlets; the only critical comment I’ve seen has been an email drawing attention to the counter-epidemic of Severe Loss of Perspective Syndrome or SLOPS.

In what is increasingly becoming the decade of fear, SARS can now be added to the rousing threats of terrorism, rogue states and (so-called) illegal immigrants. Like these, SARS exposed the fault-lines of our communal psyche, drawing on our fear of dangerous strangers. At home ABC radio bombarded me with the latest news on this mysterious disease. At work I was officially warned of the ‘very low risk’ posed by travel to Canada, China and other affected places, while some staff lobbied for the compulsory quarantine of travellers from these areas.

Sometime in the middle of this ‘crisis’ there was a glimpse of sanity when the World Health Organization reported that more than a million people die each year of malaria—that is more than three thousand a day, which is more than three times the number of deaths so far attributed to SARS. Yet on the following day SARS was once again a lead item and the concern over malaria had disappeared.

We need to have the international infrastructure and resources to cope with deadlier epidemics, but what is of greater concern is that we do very little to stop the preventable deaths of millions of people a year. We know that malnutrition is the biggest risk factor for untimely death, and that the really dangerous diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis can be greatly limited if we choose to fund the necessary initiatives.

The email on SLOPS linked its spread to ‘the end of the war in Iraq and the need for Western leaders to give the public something to worry about’. Perhaps now that the SARS crisis is officially over (at least for this year), we can look at developing a more responsible international health program, a program driven by the desire to save lives, rather than fear.

Matthew Klugman

Moonee Ponds, Vic

Little credit

I wish to provide a disappointing update to your readers regarding information in my recent article ‘Capital investment’ (Eureka Street, June 2003).

I have recently been informed by AusAID that government aid funding for microcredit, whilst increasing steadily over the last few years, fell from $13 million in 2001–02 to around $8.5 million in 2002–03. This represents a 35 per cent cut in funding.

Unfortunately it does not appear to be a priority within the aid program to seek out the evergrowing number of smaller, high quality microcredit programs desperately seeking funds to expand in order to reach self-sustainability. The use of some of our aid dollars for microcredit has enormous support within the Australian community.

The Australian Government also committed to work towards fulfilling its commitment to achieving the 1997 Microcredit Summit goal of reaching 100 million of the world’s poorest families with microcredit by 2005. Appropriate to that commitment would be a funding level of around $40 million per year.

It’s time to give credit where it is due.

Maree Nutt
President, RESULTS Australia
Mona Vale, NSW

State of mind

Andrew Hamilton’s ‘Comment’ (July–August, p4) is more chilling than he may have intended.
Much is made of individualism these days, but the decline of social sense has led, as Hamilton points out, to the denial of any intermediary between the individual and the state. It needs to be remembered that this denial is constitutive of  totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism has never countenanced such intermediaries—whether genuine trade unions, or churches, or anything else. As Giovanni Gentile said, ‘the state becomes a reality only in the consciousness of individuals.’

Odd, is it not, that Western liberalism should lead in a direction that it theoretically abhors—one espoused by fascism and communism? As Hilaire Belloc foresaw, we have become a mass of contented slaves controlled by a few billionaires and their political servants.

Fr John Hill
St John the Baptist
Woywoy, NSW

Mind matters

Tim Thwaites’ article (‘Mind and Matter’, Eureka Street, July-August 2003) was a timely reflection on the power of the mind to cure. Whether or not psychology can help one’s physiology is still controversial; a less contentious but currently unpopular idea is that thinking can help mend society.

Gandhi once evoked the role of the public intellectual: ‘[W]hen there was no rapid locomotion, traders and preachers went on foot, from one end of the country to the other, braving all the dangers, not for pleasure, not for recreating their health (though this followed from their tramps) but for the sake of humanity.’ Their actions were distinguished by their selfless nature. Critics of the prevailing political conservatism can easily lament the altruistic instinct our society has recently thrown overboard, but criticism alone encourages despair at the expense of dreaming. We need to recall the work of many Australians who have used their minds to heal our society, rather than merely lamenting the state of it. Their experiences can move us to do the same.

By sharing the stories of people who set out on journeys for the sake of humanity, perhaps Eureka Street could give us more to dream about?

 Emily Millane
Box Hill North,Vic



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