Thursday, 11 August 2011

Small Threads Bind US Together

Our actions make the world small, bound tight by the threads of connection. Even small actions can shrink the world, at least in small increments. Inaction triggers stagnation, isolation, and estrangement.  This in turn breeds fear and hostility.

In Africa I am constantly reminded just how small the world is and how wonderfully connected we really are to each other. Be it the Alberta Café we walked past in Burundi or the boy in the Olds team shirt we saw a while back while waiting for a minibus. Those are just a couple examples that I noticed and there were undoubtedly many times more that I failed to see. I think most people would be surprised at the connections that exist.

A few weeks back my niece had mentioned to me that the nuns at the health clinic were distributing vitamin A supplements to children and to HIV patients. She had mentioned her surprise at the sight of little “Product of Canada” signs on the containers of pills. This jogged my memory about a newspaper story a year or two ago featuring Banner Pharmaceuticals in Olds and the Canadian Micronutrient Initiative celebrating the production of the five billionth pill. A bit of investigation confirmed the pills at the clinic in Kivumu indeed were made by Banner.

I was struck by the thought that such tiny things as the pills produced a few hundred metres from my home in Alberta could have such profound effect half a world away in the centre of Africa. I too wondered if the workers of Banner back home truly appreciated the significance of their labour.
The Canadian-based international vitamin A supplementation program helps boost the immune systems of children in 70 countries. The vitamin A capsules manufactured in Canada are donated primarily to UNICEF, which then distributes them through national child health programs in Rwanda and 70 other countries around the world. With enough vitamin A, the child mortality rate drops by as much as 25%. It also reduces child blindness by up to 70%. High-strength vitamin A supplements are one the most cost-effective ways there exists to improve child survival rates.
The program is elegantly; it takes only one dose of vitamin A every six months, from age six months to five years to help save a child’s life. It works to boost children’s immune systems so that their bodies are less susceptibility to malaria and diarrheal disease. Each capsule costs something like two cents to make – that works out to 24 cents to save a child’s life.

Canada has provides 75 per cent of the developing world’s need for vitamin A and this program has contributed to saving the lives of as many as a million children every year. Banner produces about ½ of Canada’s contribution. I don’t know how many people at Banner in Olds are involved in some capacity in the production of the vitamin A supplements, but using the figure of one hundred people, by my calculations that means that for every hour one of those employees work they save the lives of 3 or 4 children around the world.

There are almost certainly many children in our village alive today because of the workers at Banner and I have met many appreciative parents who I am sure would sincerely like to thank each one of those workers for their contribution.

It is a rather sobering thought that due directly to the actions of one hundred people from my town the lives of 375,000 children, in 70 different countries, are spared each year. Millions of connecting threads encircling the world have been spun over the last few years of vitamin A production in Olds. In a few years, there will be scientists, statesmen, and artists spread around the world who will owe their very existence to the actions of a few nameless workers from my hometown.

We are surely all connected. Some by threads we see, some by threads unseen. Sometimes it is our simplest deeds that have the most profound outcomes.

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