Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spitting image of Ethiopia – A tuberculosis habit

Spitting kills. It might not do so immediately but sooner or later it will kill someone, somewhere, sometime. The culprit is not the fluid that is excreted but rather the bacteria it bears – mycobacterium tuberculosis, the cause for tuberculosis. . It is a disease that if left unattended can kill very slowly and painfully. Tuberculosis killed 100 million people in the 20th century and is one of the leading killers of man today.

Tuberculosis and spitting through history

Tuberculosis hit Europe and the United States pretty hard in the early 1800’s. One way for stopping the spread of the disease was to stop people from spitting in public. France was one of the first countries to bring orders against spitting in public. Next to come was New York City, in the USA, where it is still illegal to spit in public today, although no one enforces that law.

Tuberculosis and Spitting in Ethiopia

Currently, Ethiopia has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis infections. In fact it is the 7th most infected country in the world, and according to WHO, the second most infected countries in Africa. At any one time it is estimated that there are just over 300,000 new cases in Ethiopia. While that may be a scary number the good news is that it is a completely curable disease if treated as early as possible.

Yet, while roaming the streets of Addis Ababa, it makes one wonder whether the people have even heard of the relationship between spitting and tuberculosis. While it was very uncommon to see people spitting in public in the recent past it is now amazingly, and disgustingly, a common sight that everyone of every sex and age seems to enjoy. And similarly while it was considered rude to spit within sight of another person, the ‘spitters’ of today have become very brazen. Some even enjoy the sight of a passerby cringing at the sound and sight show.

A China syndrome?

In China, it is not offensive at all to noisily draw up phlegm and spit it out anywhere at any time. Tourists have written about it all over the net. Incidentally, the number of Chinese living in Ethiopia has been on the increase these past few years. While we have been learning a lot about their working ethics, techniques and disciplines, have we also picked on their spitting habits? If so, we must also remember that not only is China one of the most tuberculosis infected countries in the world but also the country where the recent SARS virus attacked and caused the most damage.

Laws against spitting and Littering

Laws against spitting really need to be brought forward in Ethiopia. And while at it, it wouldn’t kill (no pun intended) anyone to throw in a couple of littering laws too. God knows it is needed!