Of Medical Cannabis, Development and Philip Roth

The cannabis drug issue has been widely debated in press columns. Up to now there is no precise information about the intention of the government on the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. It is increasingly being considered in other countries. If ever there is a burgeoning interest in this field, a look at research and findings on the topic will be of great use in future measures taken by the Ministry of Health. May we draw attention to the interest shown by researchers worldwide and from advanced countries as well in the experiments being carried out in Israeli laboratories to better understand the properties of cannabis.

Ongoing research aimed at ensuring an efficient and safe medical use of the drug is a safeguard against improper and harmful use of it. At the peak of the chikunguya epidemic in the region, when conventional medicine was at a loss on how to alleviate the terrible pain of patients, inhaling or even boiling cannabis leaves and drinking it proved to be efficient. It seems that in the treatment of a few illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder, the consumption of cannabis is increasingly getting acceptance.

About three months ago, a spray which regulates the dose of cannabis to be inhaled came out from an Israeli laboratory. Three weeks ago, another medicine in the form of a green paste was produced. Morocco is currently a major supplier of marijuana leaves to Israel.

The point is to increase awareness of experiments and advances which may benefit people locally and, by the same token, help exert control on the illicit drug trade and health-damaging consequences of abusive consumption. Of course, local research and cooperation with Israeli labs can be envisaged. The ultimate goal is to keep pace with modern findings and not lag behind and wait for two decades before taking the right initiatives for the benefit of the public’s health.

On another front, a start-up in Israel is making a major breakthrough in the monitoring of babies’ health. The movements of unborn babies can be visualised thanks to a small screen that pregnant women can place on their wombs. The screen looks like a small iPhone. Mobile phones are an Israeli invention which all Mauritians use for practical reasons, communication and in big and small businesses. Should we also recall that the components of insulin for diabetes treatment which concern almost every family in Mauritius were the findings of a Jewish physician? The government is right to boost constructive relations with Israel on the occasion of its 70th anniversary celebration, an incredible country with a huge capacity for invention and innovation.

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Is the public kept informed on the development of Science and Technology undertaken by local researchers? On state investment to encourage research work? How much communication there is between academics from the University of Mauritius and the decision-makers is an open question. It is also of prime importance to foster cooperation with dynamic forward-looking countries to uplift science and technology.

The other point is the price of imported medicine, which strains the savings of many a family. It will help to diversify the source of suppliers and not import mainly from France. Take the case of glasses. Almost everyone needs to wear them in their forties. Bourbon Street in Port-Louis has several opticians and most of them order glasses from France. A consultation plus the glasses which take three weeks to get over here amount to around Rs 6000. A pretty huge sum for average and low income earners. Good quality glasses made in India are not available in Mauritius. We hope the ministry will look into the issue to ensure an affordable cost in the public interest.

Physical discomfort and waste of time are what characterize everyday life and bug one and all as soon as you step out of your house in Mauritius. That is if you choose public transport. And for many reasons it is wiser and should be more practical to use public transport. Cars drain money out of the country besides costing a lot in maintenance and are environmentally-unfriendly. Modern buses, street cars, light metros , underground metros make things easier for citizens to go to work every day, to spend a day in different places, or loiter around at a fair at the other end of a town on a sunny Sunday. It took decision-makers more than ten years to modernize the transport system. Not only does it impact on the final bill but deprives commuters of practicable modern means of transport.

Some parts in the capital can be used as pedestrian roads to ease movement and create more space. Scarcely anything changes in small details. The North of the island is a key tourist sector and requires upgraded road infrastructure and pedestrian public squares. Not only poor driving conditions are a daily nuisance, you can bet that in 20 years’ time the ditch along 60 metres between Grand Bay and Pointe aux Canonniers will remain intact, a real pain for drivers.

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Development and underdevelopment

The more we look around us and observe the development and underdevelopment of different countries, the more we realize that what makes the difference is the commitment to explore various fields of knowledge. Some countries are amazingly high performers in everything. Lack of natural resources may be a handicap to development and progress in small countries while others maintain a low level of general education and show scarce inclination to instil the desire to explore the benefits of science and research in Medicine, Technology and Engineering.

And you know what? There is a time for pointing fingers at history, colonialism and others, and blame them for the mess you are in. But there is a time for introspection and assessing your own failures, lack of vision and inability to seize opportunities at the right time. This is what smart countries and smart people do.

African countries have been independent for over 60 years. What is brandished as African development today is largely Chinese investment in building overall infrastructure, roads, ports and airports. Any right-thinking educated African knows fully well that internal rivalries, tribal and clannish divisions, ego competition and authoritarian regimes kept the continent lagging behind for decades. Agricultural sector has been revived through foreign direct investment. There is plenty of water in Africa which could have been channelled to more arid lands decades ago if Israeli technology had been used, for instance. Paddy fields could have been cultivated years ago.

It took so many years for Tunisia and other African countries to plant trees like moringa which consume little water, for example. Some countries do not even have the technical skills to manufacture bicycles while others are too far ahead in all sectors. The list can go on. Such huge discrepancies combined with age-old animosity fuelled by sectarian ideology do not bode well for world peace. What is amazing is the profound human intelligence and tremendous capacity for innovation and progress, and the propensity for self-destruction which parts of humanity are bent on bringing down on this beautiful planet.

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Philip Roth and the Human Condition

Tribute to Philip Roth, American writer who passed away at 85 years last week. Last year, he was mentioned in this column as a great contemporary writer who deserved the Nobel Prize for the more than 30 novels he had written. His writings were viewed as being provocative and shocking from the very start of his career. But Roth excelled at being politically incorrect, laying bare all the facets of society including the inside story of the Jewish community he was born into.

In his books, he explored the human soul to its deepest recesses, wrote about sex, desire, manhood, men and women relationship, ageing, death and the human condition. He was a harsh critic of society, metaphorically translated the existing traces of puritanism in American society and expressed scorn for the commercial aspect of American life.

Different periods of American history are reflected in his works, the post-war era, women’s liberation movement, McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. ‘I married a Communist’ derided the Red Scare witch-hunt prevailing during Senator McCarthy’s rule, and ‘The Human Stain’ 2000 recalls reminiscences of puritanism over Bill Clinton’s sex scandal. Slipping from fiction to falsely autobiographical novels, inventing an alter ego, Roth goes through his private story as a descendant of Jews who left Europe for the US in the late 19th century, and warned of a repetition of the Holocaust in the future, which he said would be carried this time by Arab countries. Uncertainty, doubt and frustration, emotions which are part and parcel of the process of writing and which we experience on a daily basis run through his writings.

For reasons of their own, American feminists detected misogyny in his works and protested against the Nobel Prize being given to him. Jean d’Ormesson, the late French writer, declared on television four years ago that he would be happy to see other writers writing like Philip Roth. Writers are spokespersons of the human condition, witnesses of history, society and their times which they put into words with talent. Non-consensual writers who dare say things regardless of who might be pleased or not, reveal what is stifled out of hypocrisy and inhibition and skillfully invent characters and make them deliver powerful texts and dialogues that uplift the conscience of readers. They are a blessing to humanity.

Every time a great writer passes away, he or she deserves a fitting tribute so that their contribution to literature is remembered by us.

* Published in print edition on 1 June 2018

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