Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Health: Slumdog Millionaire highlights global crisis

Although it's been slammed by some for "glamorizing poverty," the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire is also being praised for drawing attention to a growing global crisis.

Pat Ferguson, President & CEO of Canada's Operation Eyesight, which funds community development programs in Mumbai and other Indian cities says the movie accurately depicts how hard life can be in an urban slum.

"Almost a billion people live in squalid slums scattered across the globe," says Ferguson. "Although Slumdog Millionaire is set in India, similar living conditions can be found in most countries."

"And it's a growing problem. The UN predicts the number of slum dwellers will double to two billion by 2030 if no action is taken," she said.

In the movie, the young hero Jamal lifts himself up out poverty in a classic rags-to-riches fairy tale. As with most fairy tales however, it rarely happens that way in real life. For the vast majority, being born in a slum almost certainly means living your whole life in a slum.

But while many experts study the problem and governments are seemingly paralyzed by the enormity of it, one woman has been quietly and successfully tackling the issue on a shoe-string budget for over two decades.

"Our partner, Indian pediatrician, Gopa Kothari is an eminently practical woman," explains Ferguson. "She knows it would be a herculean task to completely eliminate the slums, so she focuses instead on improving health, basic infrastructure and quality of life for the people who live there."

In 1981, Dr. Kothari learned that childhood blindness was epidemic in the slums of Mumbai and decided to do something about it. She soon realized that simple interventions like vitamin A supplements were not enough and began offering classes in modern child rearing, sanitation and nutrition, basic literacy and running small businesses.

"Dr. Kothari empowers the community by training volunteers from within the slum," says Ferguson. "People take charge of their own health and work together to improve their lives. Wherever her program is implemented, malnutrition, disease and infant mortality drop dramatically."

"Best of all, these are not short-term interventions," explains Ferguson. "Every project is still up and running on a self-sustaining basis. A one-time investment of about $150,000 Cdn can make lasting change for a community of about 20,000 people."

Dr. Kothari has transformed life for hundreds of thousands of people just like Jamal in Mumbai, Delhi and in impoverished rural villages in Gujarat. Although she has been offered positions in prestigious institutions, she chooses to continue her work in the slums.

Source: Operation Eyesight Universal
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits