Whenever anyone asks me to do some maths that might involve even the mildest strain on my brain, I come back with a set-menu response.
“Sorry, I much prefer words to numbers,” I say.
Like it’s a dichotomy.
This is often followed up with some reference to the fact that we all have calculator apps, many gathering dust, on the nursery slopes of our mobile phones’ expanses of software. Just get your phone out instead, I plead. Don’t make me do it. Please! I don’t want to have to deal with numbers. I am lazy. I passed my maths GCSE 11 years ago, wasn’t that enough?!
I have wished and struggled and failed to eradicate engaging with mathematics in my life. I have made choices (like what subjects to study, what jobs to pursue) that were heavily influenced by my desire to escape the rigidity I found so suffocating in maths.
“Rigidity” was how I reacted, how I react, to maths too. Where:
I remember the agony of trying to learn basic algebra. There are a set of rules to follow. Take steps one, two and three to balance the equation. Follow these steps or else. It was a world that seemed too Spartan for me, too strict. And too tricky.
Words, on the other hand, were malleable. I found they responded to my touch much better. I could discuss, suggest, debate, cajole and argue my way to success. Or, as it usually turned out, failure. But still! I was better at this and preferred it anyway. I pitched my tent. I would write something, bad or occasionally passable, almost every day of my life from now on. I would be a writer.
The decision felt at turns justified and dreadful (it depends on the day). It also came at a price.
I turned my back on numeracy but I could not release a small, persistent itch. The respect I have for scientists and engineers and those who embrace maths and its disciples is profound. I suspected that pushing all of the above away might be being stupid.
So many daughters and sons of maths and science help make the world a better place, from Medecins Sans Frontiers to the climate scientists I interviewed warning the rest of us what will happen if we keep clinging on to industrial capitalism and keep burning fossil fuels.
I knew all this, but the decision to choose maths still genuinely puzzled me.
I tried to imagine it. And inside the boardroom of my brain: howls of protest, an upturning of the tables and chairs every time a chance or choice for remotely complex maths arose. How could they be so masochistic? My allergic reaction to maths as a child had hardened. Now I carry it around like a tumour.
Could this have been any different? Not for me, perhaps.
But, thanks to a wonderful graphic novel I discovered last week, my eyes are opening to see what it might be like for a child who is energized by maths from a young age. One specific child, to be exact.
Logicomix is about the life of the Mathmetician, Philosopher and Peace Activist Bertrand Russell. It is subtitled “An Epic Search For Truth”.
Though I am yet to finish reading the book (I’m enjoying it so much I’ve actually begun to ration my daily intake so the experience can last longer) the opening gambit is already living up to its mission statement.
Logicomix describes how young Bertie Russell was raised for the most part by his controlling, ultra-religious Grandmother. The only explanations she offered him as to the nature of the world and reality were religious.
A fierecly bright young boy, Bertie found these answers to be insufficient and lacking in proof. He experinced a world shrouded by the tunnel vision of religious dogma. He yearned to open his eyes, really open them, for the first time.
Deliverance came in the form of a new maths tutor, who taught him some of Euclid’s rules for geometry. After he has demonstrated Euclid’s proposition that “if two angles of a triangle, any triangle, are equal, then of necessity the two adjacent sides are equal,” with the aid of a blackboard, several chalk triangles, chalk angles, and basic chalk equations, he tells an apprehensive Bertie:
“Work it out for yourself.”
Then this happens:
Logicomix, 2009. Art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna
“Nothing in my life was quite the same after that first meeting with Euclid. In his works, I found what I had vainly sought for in Grandma’s faith! Geometry showed me the only way toward reality: Reason. In it, I encountered for the first time the delicious experience of knowing something with total certainty! Proof thus became my Royal Road to Truth…”
As I work my way through Logicomix, Russell will no doubt go from outstanding mathematical achivements, through dizzying heights of writing (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature) and profound meditations on the state of the turbulent 20th Century world he moved through.
Logicomix showed me that all the achievements of this great man could trace their genesis back to his childhood and a moment when the beauty of maths revealed itself to him, just as it had remained cloaked and elusive for myself.
So this blog is a roundabout way of saying thanks to Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos, Annie Di Donna and everyone else who worked on the book, not to mention young Bertie himself. Their vision not only let me glimpse another world I thought I’d never see. It’s also helping me understand this one a bit better too.
Maybe his words said more about contemporary Japan’s uniquely dim views on pro-creation. But they recalled a more universal perspective too…
The stamp of environmentalism infuses much of Miyazaki’s Ghibli features. It’s perhaps clearest in the film which, if forced at gunpoint to make an otherwise impossible decision in that parallel universe where this twisted game apparently happens all the time, I would choose über alles: Princess Mononoke.
Complex, 3D-printed―the characters in Princess Mononoke embody this dichotomy between hope and despair re: human stewardship over the natural world. It’s clearest in the two we probably come to dislike more than any others.
Eboshi Gozen is the matriarch ruler of Iron Town.
Her lust for the terrible inertia of “progress” at the dawn of iron-working techniques in medieval Japan is gobbling up the pixel of pachamama where the film takes place. Its residents and “Gods” fall like matchwood before the steamroller of industry and the metal shot loosed from the humans’ futuristic new weapons: guns.
Yet we discover that this industry offers purpose, productivity and shelter not only to the able locals (regardless of their gender) but also to the once-ostracised lepers who live nearby.
The other figure is the ambitious monk Jiko-bō. He will help decapitate the Great Forest Spirit at the film’s climax.
“So you’re cursed?” Jiko-bō asks Ashitaka (the closest thing to a conventional hero we are offered in the film) over steaming bowls of rice, as the rain pounds down around them.
“So what? So’s the whole damn world…”
Miyazaki is not a nihilist. Deep seams of optimism (see Totoro) run through his works like silver veins through a mountainside―to be gawped at, twinkling in the darkness.
Through Gozen and Jiko-bō we’re force-fed a terrifying existential truth addressed in Miyazaki’s comments: Even though, materially speaking, those of us sheltering in comfy bourgeois corners of “the West” may enjoy unprecedented blessings, our casually miraculous lives are built on pillars of sand―humanity’s savaging of the finite natural world to pump Earth’s deathly fossils into our cars and planes (and atmosphere), its toxic lithium into our phones, its trees into our fires.
Painting this gigantic Catch-22, Miyazaki’s perspective comes to life. And it’s a heart-breaker.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 20, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson—Herald Staff
Non-profit organization offers weekly activities for disadvantaged youth in southern BA
A group of children from the Barracas and Constitución neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires City are finding a safe space for fun weekly activities thanks to a non-profit volunteer organization that is largely run by a group of expats.
“It’s about creating a positive space for the kids that they might not always get at home. So the hope is that if they have a skateboard or guitar or whatever in their hands, they can spend their time on that and not on the street,” Unión de los Pibes founder and director Will Aquino told the Herald.
Aquino, who grew up in the US state of Georgia and has been living in Buenos Aires for more than seven years, helped Union de los Pibes grow from the ashes of a former organization based in nearby La Boca — Club Acorn — that shut its doors in 2010.
“I got together with other volunteers from Club Acorn to see what we could do,” he said.
The group now meets every Saturday afternoon and hosts a variety of activities in addition to monthly field trips that are paid for through fundraising events, often held at bars popular with foreigners who have made Buenos Aires their temporary or permanent home.
The space where the group often meets — a small patch of grass and concrete football and basketball courts underneath an overpass — may be modest, but the kids don’t seem to mind.
“My sister comes here every Saturday and I started coming too — it’s fun!” Lautaro, 10, beamed as he took a breather from a game of Frisbee. “I don’t like playing soccer much, but there’s lots of other things to do,” he added, pointing to the tranquil arts and crafts session taking place at the time where kids made colourful animals from recycled cardboard. In another corner, kids were playing chess and others a game of Twister.
Lautaro, though, was clearly in the minority as soccer is one of the most popular activities on offer.
“The soccer!” yells Marcos from Barracas when he’s asked for his favourite part of the weekly meetups.
Beyond the weekly activities, the children who take part in the group also spoke highly of the special activities that take place around once a month and can involve anything from a day trip to Tigre to skateboarding classes.
The group is run exclusively by weekly volunteers, including many expats like Peter Fitzsimmons, a 30-year-old risk assessor from Ireland currently teaching English in Buenos Aires alongside his wife Emily, who were eager to volunteer but were often put off by organizations that required them to pay in order to help.
“We wanted to take a hiatus and help out. We were looking for something genuine, rather than a company that asks you for a load of money to simply go for a few days and take pictures with kids,” he said.
While most of the volunteers are expats, there are a few locals in the mix.
“I’m a local guy, from just near here in fact,” Nico told the Herald, pointing to the surrounding tower blocks near the park. “I knew how it can be with kids being in the street and surrounded by crime and I think the group is helping to change that a little.”
For Aquino, the next big challenge is to, as he says, find “a place to call home.”
“We have around thirty kids and I think that, with a club house or location of our own, we’d easily double that,” he explained.
In a bid to boost fundraising efforts, the group held a self-described festival in late July that included bands, food stands, other non-profit organisations and activities in Palermo.
Renting out the space cost the group almost all of the funds they had stored away, but Aquino says it proved to be a successful gamble not only to raise much-needed cash but also get the word out about their organization. The next Union de los Pibes festival is scheduled for November 8.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 19, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson Herald Staff
Foreigners find it almost impossible to order books, deal with bureaucracy at central Post Office
Foreigners living in Buenos Aires eager for items from their home countries are increasingly turning away from the postal service, as a complex and time-consuming collection process often translates into hours of navigating a difficult bureaucratic system filled with complicated and sometimes contradictory rules and regulations.
Norman Clarke, a 42-year-old software developer living in the neighbourhood of Belgrano has given up on printed books as a result of all the hassle.
“I used to order books online all the time, but after several experiences of going to Retiro and waiting for hours to pick them up, I gave up and bought a tablet,” Clarke told the Herald.
And books should, at least in theory, be one of the least complicated items to receive from abroad because they are not subject to special duties.
Some immigrants have become so frustrated by their experiences at the central Post Office’s international package depot in the Retiro neighbourhood that they have learned to rely on friends — and sometimes friends of friends — to bring them things from their homelands.
“I basically stopped ordering anything on the Internet from abroad and instead bring things back from the US with me when I travel, or ask friends to bring things back for me,” Clarke added.
The lack of clarity in which packages will be sent to a recipient’s home and which will be kept in Retiro is one of the main obstacles. The criteria often seems random.
Some who have braved the office in Retiro quickly vowed never to try to navigate the complicated system again.
“There were multiple lines you have to get into. One to check your paper saying that you have a package waiting, then one to pay, then one to show your ID, then one to wait until they call your package number,” explained Meagan Edwards, a 33-year-old Candian from Alberta currently working in Buenos Aires as a teacher trainer.
“The second time it was the same process but took almost 5 hours. After our third time, we told our families to just stop sending things. It wasn’t worth the hassle,” she added.
For the time being at least, any changes in the system seem unlikely.
The AFIP tax bureau, which is in charge of some of the postal service’s management, insists there is no issue with how international packages are handled and delivered.
“There are no problems,” AFIP spokeswoman Adriana Pintabona said, adding that any issues encountered when receiving packages could be solved through the normal procedures as outlined by the Post Office guidelines.
“If you don’t receive your package then you’ll get a note. Then you have to take it and the AFIP form to the central office at Retiro and collect the package. There may be some waiting in line but you will receive it eventually,” she said.
Some immigrants echoed that sentiment, noting that there may be long waits and multiple rounds of paperwork but they were ultimately able to receive their packages.
“I’ve sent many packages to Argentina from the States for many years and have yet to lose one. I think you just have to look out for the messages of arrival and then bite the bullet and go to customs,” said Lilian Neal, a retiree from the United States.
For others, however, the red tape can become insurmountable.
(This article and its content were first published on thebubble.com, October 14, 2015).
As The Bubble reported soon after the news broke across social media, a video emerged last month of police in Tucumán mercilessly beating up a teenager inside his cell while other officers looked on, completely complicit. As he throws punches into the defenseless minor’s face and torso, the officer can be heard bawling:
“WHY DON’T YOU RESPECT ME KID? WHY DO YOU KEEP MESSING WITH ME ON MY SHIFT? WHY DON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME?”
The fact that the video caused such outrage after it surfaced was the positive to take away from what happened. Among the mountain of negatives was the sad truth that despite the condemnation, the images surprised few people here in Argentina, where stories of police brutality seem to emerge with almost clockwork regularity, 30 years since the fall of the last military dictatorship.
The event reminded us all that cruelty, corruption and violence at the hands of the police in Argentina has been a recognized norm here for decades.
This makes the institutional and illegal violence latent within the police — metropolitan, federal, gendarmerie… they’re all tarnished — all the more dangerous because it becomes normalized and almost accepted as an unchangeable constant that the government is seemingly at pains to do as little as possible about.
But is stoicism towards the corruption, the racism, the normalization of human rights abuses the best response, especially when the violence is so persistent? It has certainly not helped stem the tide.
According to Gerardo Netche, lawyer and researcher for the anti-police corruption organization Correpi “there is almost one case of police violence every day,” in Argentina. Yet it’s impossible to know with any precision how many abuses have been buried entirely by the police themselves on top of a chilling estimate like this.
CATALOGUE OF VIOLENCE
We can only judge the situation from the cases we know about, and these happen all too often. The video of the teenager brutalized at the hands of police came just days after federal police forces had repressed a non-violent demonstration in Tucumán, with a liberal spraying of rubber bullets and healthy doses of tear gas, after proved instances of electoral corruption in the province had prompted the protests.
This time on Homeland Security Secretary Sergio Berni’s orders, the border guards wounded over 30 workers in the process, two of whom ended up in intensive care, before the Labor Ministry and corporate owners of the bus route eventually backed down and conceded to the workers’ demands anyway.
Berni showed no contrition whatsoever and in fact blamed the protesters themselves for getting shot, the latest offering from the expanding catalog of his “tough on crime” bullshit sound bites.
In both cases, the action of all those police officers involved in the use of rubber bullets to repress a democratic protest was illegal according to prominent human rights group the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), which cited a resolution tied to Berni’s own Security Ministry forbidding such suppressive acts.
These cases of government-sponsored repression at the hands of the police were rightly condemned by main opposition candidate Mauricio Macri of the Cambiemos center-right coalition.
But Macri and his political allies failed to recognize the extreme levels of hypocrisy berthed from slamming the federal government and police for unwarranted violence and force during a peaceful demonstration. After all, perhaps the most notorious and shocking instance of mass police violence in the last few years was dealt by the hands and truncheons of the metropolitan police in Buenos Aires City, of which Macri has been mayor for the last eight years.
Then there are the ongoing, clandestine and extremely concerning reports of forced disappearances of those living in the impoverished villa neighbourhoods on the edges of the City, as detailed in recent documentaryNunca Digas Nunca (“Never Say Never”).
Why are brutality and human rights abuses so persistent within the various police forces?
At the crux of the issue in Argentina is the weight of a dark past. Unlike most other state institutions — such as the executive, for example, who is now a president people elect instead of a psychopathic general and his thugs imposing “order” — the police have not undergone any serious reforms since the fall of the dictatorship.
As Editor-in-Chief of the Buenos Aires Herald and longstanding human rights advocate Sebastian Lacunza told me last year, this is a root cause of ongoing malpractice within the police forces in Argentina:
“The main problem, once again, is the Argentine police; supposed to catch criminals and gather evidence against them. In more than 30 years of democracy, no government has led a much-needed reform of security forces which had been deeply involved in illegal repression during the dictatorship.”
“Hundreds of police officers took part in killings, tortures and snatching babies. Even though many of them were judged and Argentine society lives under the rule of law, forces still work with unacceptable practices from a human rights perspective,” he said.
In reference to the new Criminal Procedural Code which placed extra unaccountable powers in the hands of the police, he added:
“SO IT’S NO TIME TO REPLACE THE PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS INCLUDED IN THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM BY A TOUGH-ON-CRIME APPROACH.”
As an organization, therefore, the police maintain, to a lesser or greater extent, many of the traits institutionalized during the dictatorship that now run through their ranks like seams of coal through a mountain. They do not by any means touch every part or person across the forces but are clearly present throughout.
The racism, authoritarianism and willful neglect of human rights espoused by the Generals are all engendered as a result, as Amnesty International detailed in a recent report on human rights in Argentina.
Police violence is also linked intrinsically to a decaying and often inhumane prison system. Amnesty also reported that many prisons here are woefully overcrowded, that torture of inmates inside whether by guards or other prisoners is endemic and that despite the overcrowding, many inmates are forced into solitary confinement for over 20 hours each day.
The scarcity of denunciations of such abuse from within the police itself is a key reason so few cases are met with justice. Lack of accountability is at the heart of the problem. It alludes to the endemic nature of mistreatment espoused by the police.
If superiors are willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes and misdemeanors of their junior officers, or even be actively complicit in the abuse they deal out, hope for an improvement of police behavior coming from within the organization looks wistful at best.
Of those cases of police violence that did result in punitive measures against the cops involved, justice was invariably served in spite of the police authority’s best efforts to avoid any punitive measures against officers within their own ranks. The recent charges brought against the Chief of Federal Police in Tucmán, José Dante Bustamante, who was indicted by a government-sponsored judicial investigation following the Tucumán debacle earlier in the year, illustrated this.
Expecting self-regulation from the same police forces that were willfully complicit in the crimes of the last dictatorship and have undergone no significant reforms since then is probably wishful thinking. The impetus for change must come from outside, and those with the most obvious power to affect a change are our elected representatives.
So it is a bitter irony that one of the most striking aspects of the current state of the Argentine police and its many discontents is the way the subject unites the main political parties and coalitions in Argentina behind the current status quo.
All three front-runners for the presidency in Daniel Scioli (Victory Front), Mauricio Macri (Cambiemos) and Sergio Massa (A New Alternative) have attacked the others when instances of brutality at the hands of the police have surfaced. Yet none have made any significant foray into territory which suggests they might embark on a widespread, progressive shake up of the police forces that could help clamp down on the corruption and recurring brutality, both of which are documented extensively by human rights groups.
On the contrary, all three, and particularly the two Peronist candidates in Scioli and Massa, have prioritized a massive expansion of police power if they triumph at the pivotal general election two weeks from now.
Scioli’s campaign videos play up his massive expansion of the police in Buenos Aires Province as governor, and show him addressing rallies of rank upon rank of drilled police recruits in matching uniforms. His insistence that this “new” police force embodies authority but not authoritarianism was unconvincing amid so much evidence to the contrary.
Meanwhile, having ditched the use of crying babies for electioneering purposes, Massa’s latest video is perhaps even more sinister still. It seems to amalgamate the police with the military completely. “We declare war on drug trafficking!” he proclaims as narco-trafficking cops and, bizarrely, fighter jets charge towards the northern border regions.
NB: (No one has told Massa that he’s missed the War on Drugs boat, which left harbor over 40 years ago and shows every sign of sinking without trace but for the tragic escalation of violence and death it has fueled, needlessly, in this part of the world in particular).
What is to be done? Clearly, the police force must be strong when accountable force is necessary in order to deal with some of the most pressing criminal problems continuing to plague Argentina, not least of which are the shameful and ongoing cases of human trafficking, which continue despite swelling police numbers.
Nevertheless, the failure to address the institutionalized violence that national and international rights groups all say continues to exist within the Argentine police forces is a political failure that needs addressing if we are to avoid more incidents like Tucumán’s and Borda’s or villa disappearances in the future. Discussing the need for reform from a human rights perspective would be a start. The longer this is avoided, the longer ordinary citizens will continue to pay the price for their own government’s inaction. At present, the biggest political forces in Argentina keep their heads buried in the sand.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 13, 2015).
By Orlando Jenkinson Herald Staff
As tourist bus faces deep crisis, biking sees ‘amazing growth’ fuelled by new start ups
Tourists in Buenos Aires are turning away from traditional organised excursions as a blossoming bicycle tour industry continues to grow from strength to strength.
The Herald reported earlier this year that the primary bus tour company in the City, Buenos Aires Bus, is facing a crisis of falling customer numbers (down 15 percent in the first five months of 2015), in tandem with the latest INDEC statistics on tourism which show that fewer people are coming to Argentina (foreign visitors dropped 4.3 percent in July) — with those who do spending increasingly less.
Amid the gloom, however, an embryonic bike tourism industry is enjoying an expansion, spawning multiple start-up businesses in recent years, which are tapping into the new corner of the market.
“It’s been an amazing growth from our the original idea: to go and ride bikes with our friends. It really started like that, as a hobby for us, and now we’re taking out hundres of customers every month,” William Whittle, the co-founder of Biking Buenos Aires, told the Herald.
Company data given by the firm showed consistent increases each month from the previous year’s total number of customers, reflecting a rise in fortunes at odds with the falling number of foreign tourists arriving.
Overall, the company attracted 3,092 customers in tours in 2014 (up by over 200 from the previous year) and was already well on course to better that total again this year with over 2,350 people having chosen to book one of many guided tours or rent a bike with Biking Buenos Aires.
The same growth in customers, with an improvement year on year, was also reflected in monthly totals, and can be said for other bike tour companies that have emerged across the City recently. BA Bikes, for example, based in Monserrat, witnessed strikingly similar patterns of growth and rising customer numbers since it was founded five years ago.
“At the start, we had just ten bicycles crammed into a tiny garage like you wouldn’t believe. Now we have 150 bikes, stores here in Monserrat and Palermo and plans for a third in Recoleta,” Director Diego Salamone said.
Offering a suggestion as to what could be behind the cause of such a dramatic growth bike tours, Salamone said that customer’s often cited a more intimate way to experience the sights of Buenos Aires on choosing to explore the City in this way.
“One of the things that customers have responded to biking around the City is that it’s a much stronger, more direct connection. You’re always active and engaging with your surroundings much more than you would be on a bus for example,” he said.
The multiple fledgling businesses tapping into this growth in popularity of bicycle tourism are attempting to cover all areas of the market even as it expands. Alongside putting on multiple separate tours which focus on different zones or aspects like culinary or historical points of interest in the City, most bike tour companies also offer the option to rent out bikes for those that prefer to go their own way.
And among the market, a range of tastes and budgets are catered for. BA Bikes for example, courts most of their customers through the more basic northern or southern-specific tours priced at 350 pesos apiece.
Meanwhile Biking Buenos Aires and Urban Biking both provide all-inclusive tours, with their most popular full-day Citywide tours including drinks, lunch and over ten different sightseeing stops, for between US$90 and US$120 each.
The rise of companies like Biking Buenos Aires or BA Bikes, which itself has two stores in Monserrat and Palermo, has coincided with the City itself becoming more bicycle friendly.
Earlier this year, the Copenhagen Index 2015, an annual survey of urban biking infrastructure development around the globe, ranked Buenos Aires the 14th most friendly city in the world for bicycle users and top in Latin America (it was the highest-placed non-European city), citing the introduction of bike lanes across various neighbourhoods and the creation of the Biking public rental scheme.
“In a shockingly short amount of time, Buenos Aires has succeeded in modernizing itself to include bicycles as transport. In the past three years, over 140 km of bicycle infrastructure has been implemented — much of it protected — along with a bike share programme,” the report said.
Both the infrastructure of the bike lanes and Biking share scheme were introduced by the City government from 2011 onwards, and have proved popular with porteños. Now the bike lanes in particular are helping visitors to the City enjoy cycling too.
“The introduction of the bike lanes across the City has helped us a lot, really helped us grow and structure our tours better,” Salamone told me, adding that he was optimistic that the meteoric growth in the bike tourism industry witnessed in Buenos Aires City showed no signs of abating.
“It’s going to explode this summer. Our business ebbs and flows with the seasons, but we’ve noticed for the first time that many porteños and tourists have been choosing bicycles as a way of getting around the City throughout this winter, for the first time since we began. It’s a great sign for us,” he said.
(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 2, 2015)
Hundreds of cases diagnosed anually despite major medical advances
Despite its virtual eradication from some developed corners of the world and association with ancient and pre-industrial societies, leprosy remains a significant health problem in Argentina, with hundreds of new cases reported every year.
Senior dermatologist at Buenos Aires City’s Ramos Mejía and leprosy expert Dr Jorge Tiscornia said that though the progress made against the disease had been remarkable during the second half of the twentieth century, the myths and dangers posed by the disease continued to be a serious problem in the country and across Latin America.
Tiscornia spoke to the Herald at the start of the National Campaign for Education and Prevention of Leprosy that runs in the first week of October.
“This was a disease that touched all corners of the globe historically, and in the past those suffering from leprosy were needlessly put away in colonies. It’s been a huge leap forward in last 70 years,” he said, adding that despite such progress, the problem remained.
“One problem with leprosy is that it’s a disease that can be hard to recognise straight away. There have been approximately 300 cases in Argentina since the new year. We are also treating patients from Paraguay that itself has a serious leprosy problem,” he added.
Part of the difficulty in seeking to curtail and eventually eradicate leprosy — as the World Health Organization (WHO) had hoped to achieve by the year 2000 — is the nature of its early development.
Early symptoms include faint blemishes on the skin and a numbness, rather than pain, in the affected areas. Consequently, many people suffering in the early stages of the disease when it is most treatable miss or dismiss the symptoms as unimportant.
“A common symptom is losing sensation in the skin on your hands, arms or elsewhere, and often people do not think much of it and may have contracted the disease without realizing,” Tiscornia said.
Further, according to the WHO leprosy disproportionately affects communities blighted by poverty with limited access to basic health necessities like sanitation or regular check-ups.
“Under-served and marginalized communities (are) most at risk from leprosy, often the poorest of the poor,” the WHO said.
This is true globally, where the three heavily populated countries with the most leprosy cases — India, Indonesia and Brazil — are all affected by endemic and widespread poverty.
It is also reflected in Argentina, where according to the Argentine Dermatology Society (SAD), the highest occurrence of new leprosy cases were in the Northern provinces of Formosa and Chaco, two of the poorest regions in the country.
Stigma and discrimination
One of the biggest obstacles in tackling the disease concerns the widespread misinformation about the causes, risks and of leprosy. Contrary to popular myths surrounding the disease, influenced by its historically taboo reputation, it is in fact extremely difficult to contract leprosy via contagion.
According to the SAD, in the majority of cases over three years of regular close contact with the disease is necessary before one is at risk of contracting it directly from someone already suffering, and the antibiotic drugs used to combat the disease today can cure anyone who contracts it within a year. However, popular misconceptions and discrimination remain.
“There’s a lot of damaging stigma and prejudice surrounding the disease,” Tiscornia told the Herald. “People still believe falsely that it’s incredibly contagious and shun it. And those suffering from leprosy are affected badly by the stigma.”
The aim of the awareness week it has run for 16 years is to challenge the stigma and make sure people do not ignore the early symptoms.