The Strength of Being


By Monish Chhabra ǀ 22nd February 2016

In January, aid convoys reached the Syrian town of Madaya, as part of a deal between the government and rebels to let in the supplies. By that time, 6 babies under one year of age had already died due to hunger-related causes.

This convoy supply would feed only 40,000 people for just one month.

Another town called Moadamiyah is also cut off from supplies, and its people are starving. A woman was reportedly feeding her children a broth of salt, spices and grass.

At least 400,000 people are living under siege in 15 locations across Syria, according to the UN. Whether the siege is caused by the government forces or rebels, people in these towns have little to no access to food and medicine.

So far the Syrian crisis since 2011, has killed more than 250,000 people and turned 4.5 million into refugees. That’s almost a quarter of the country’s population that has disappeared.

When in despair, the world is a dark place.

However, at the very inception of existence, there is only a kingdom of light, none of darkness.

But an object that receives light, can also cast shadows. That is where the polarity begins.

In those colonies of shadows, the darkness resides. The darkness that causes pain, suffering and grief.

However, a shadow is also the evidence of the light itself.

In the year 2015, for the first time in history, Africa had no wild polio case i.e. no natural polio virus spreading between people.

In less than 30 years, polio worldwide has dropped by 99.9%. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last two countries where wild polio cases are still found today. The goal is global eradication by 2018.

The only infectious human disease that has been successfully eradicated from the world is smallpox. The last reported case of smallpox occurred 40 years ago.

It took 200 years of vaccination to eradicate smallpox. Polio vaccine has been around for only 60 years.

For a few other infectious diseases, regional elimination has been achieved. Lymphatic filariasis has been eliminated in 21 endemic countries. Rabies has been largely eradicated from Europe, UK, Ireland, Iceland, Japan and Malta.

In 2013, Colombia eliminated onchocerciasis; world’s second leading cause of infectious blindness. In 2015, Cuba became the first country to eradicate mother-to-child syphilis.

The Americas eliminated measles transmission in 2002 and rubella in 2015. This was achieved within 50 years of the use of MMR vaccine.

However many infectious disease that have a vaccine or treatment available, still kill millions of people, for the lack of access in poorer countries.

Pneumonia kills 4 million people a year. In 2015 alone, pneumonia killed almost a million children below the age of 5. It is the single largest infectious cause of deaths in children worldwide. Many of these deaths can be avoided.

Pneumonia can be prevented with vaccines or cured with antibiotics. WHO estimates the cost of antibiotic treatment for all children with pneumonia in 66 countries is just US$100 million per year.

Tuberculosis kills a million and half people each year. Its vaccine (BCG) is in fact the most widely used vaccine worldwide, with more than 90% children being vaccinated. However, the immunity reduces as children grow up.

Once infected, the treatment of this disease can take up to 2 years of strict drugs schedule, which is not possible for many in developing countries.

Infectious diarrhoea kills more than a million people each year, half of which are children below the age of 5. Rotavirus vaccines, if administered globally, can reduce the cases by 80%.

Malaria has no effective vaccine yet, however it does have an effective treatment. In 2015, the world saw 214 million cases of malaria, of which only 0.2% resulted in death.

However, the half a million deaths that malaria causes every year, is still a huge number. WHO estimates that a child dies every minute in Africa due to malaria.

Many lives can be saved by better prevention strategies and treatment. Several malaria vaccines are also under clinical trials.

Needless to mention, all these measures need greater financial support.

A recent study in Health Affairs shows that every dollar spent towards childhood vaccination results in a $44 return within a decade, in terms of avoiding treatment costs, gained productivity and the contribution of healthy individuals.

That is an annualized return of 46%, almost unmatchable in the world of finance. Beyond the dollar figures, the value of human lives saved is unquantifiable.

In one form or another, our suffering continues an inseparable struggle with our life. Just like the one between darkness and light.

However, the nature differs. Darkness has to plot and conspire to keep the light out. It cannot directly enter the glow.

While the ‘light’ wins by its mere presence. It does not have to block or banish something else.

That is also our truth in suffering – mere presence.

No plot to play. No enemy to beat. No reward to win.

We are realized, not by beating, but by being. Being the light that we are made of and upholding its luminance.

No greater goal is necessary.

Being true, is realization enough of the truth; sufficient and complete.

This write-up is for informational purpose only. It may contain inputs from other sources, but represents only the author’s views and opinions. It is not an offer or solicitation for any service or product. It should not be relied upon, used or construed as recommendation or advice. This report has been prepared in good faith. No representation is made as to the accuracy of the information it contains, nor any commitment to update it.