By Kate Grant
CEO, Fistula Foundation
Humankind has triumphed over diseases that used to kill millions – think plague, smallpox and polio – but we haven’t seemed to slay the largest killer of them all: greed. In a riveting piece of stellar journalism, Nick Kristof and Adam Ellick of The New York Times posted this video about Angola that will likely enrage your mind as it grips your heart. For in this oil and diamond rich country, men, women and children are dying every day from preventable and treatable problems while the political elite enrich themselves, numbed to the suffering all around them.
One of those who continues to light candles in the face of darkness is Dr. Stephen Foster, a second generation missionary who runs a hospital he founded in Lubango, in Southern Angola; he’s featured in the video. He treats the victims of political rot in the capital, including severely malnourished kids, whom sometimes he heals successfully, while others arrive too late to be helped, dying in his ward. He also treats women who have labored for days without help, who end up with dead babies and too often fistula, too – a birth injury that leaves them incontinent until Foster can provide life transforming surgery for them. I know Foster, and my organization, Fistula Foundation, has been supporting his work for six years. Admittedly, this does little to solve the country’s corruption problems, but over the years it’s helped enable Dr. Foster to give hundreds of otherwise forgotten women the priceless gift of continence and health.
Angola is fairly well-off, classified by the World Bank as an “upper middle income country,” with a per capita income that exceeds virtually all other countries in Africa. The diamond engagement ring worn by you, or given by you to your wife could have come from there. (Only South Africa and Botswana produce more diamonds.) Perhaps the gas fueling your car originated in an Angolan oil field – only Nigeria produces more oil in Africa. But, the close-knit, powerful political elite that run the country and control these resources seem deaf to the cries of their dying children. While they are out cruising the streets of the capital in their Porsches and Jaguars, Angola earns the dubious distinction of having the highest child mortality rate and one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. And, it’s not just women and children. According to the World Bank, Angola’s average lifespan for men and women is under 52, making it a basket-case, even low by sub-Saharan African standards.
So, maybe it’s time the financial institutions and oil and diamond companies that help keep the political elite in those Porsches wake up to their complicity in this unfolding tragedy. Nearly four out of 10 Angolans are Catholic; I don’t have comparable data on the faiths – or lack thereof – of multinational oil or diamond company leaders. Maybe Pope Francis can get their attention?