Cover Image
close this bookSouthern Lights - Celebrating the Scientific Achievements of the Developing World (IDRC, 1995, 148 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentChapter 1 - A northern misconception demolished
View the documentChapter 2 - Is there really science in the south?
View the documentChapter 3 - How the south got left behind
View the documentChapter 4 - Third world achievements
View the documentChapter 5 - Marching to a different drummer
View the documentChapter 6 - Solving global problems together
View the documentChapter 7 - What needs to be done
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentBibliography
View the documentAcknowledgements

Chapter 2 - Is there really science in the south?

It is customary in the North to speak of the Third World as made up of “developing countries.” The term has disparaging overtones, although it is not nearly as patronizing as its predecessor - “underdeveloped countries.” Such terminology is at least partly responsible for the widespread belief in the North that there is not much activity in science and technology in the South. This belief is unfounded. For example:

- Brazil’s first domestically made Earth satellite completed a year in orbit in 1994, and Brazil and China have contracted to launch two Earth resources satellites beginning in 1996 (NISR 1994);

- Both Indonesia and Brazil have their own aircraft manufacturing industries employing domestically trained labour;

- Malaysia manufactures its own automobiles;

- India’s steel industry is the world’s fifth largest and the country is a major world supplier of computer software;

and

- Twelve scientists of Third World origin have won Nobel Prizes in science or medicine (Nobel Foundation 1994).

Consider also the following three examples.

In India, the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is working with a novel chemical synthesis approach to develop inexpensive vaccines. It has already developed a diagnostic kit as a first step toward a vaccine for Hepatitis E, a new variety of the hepatitis virus that is rampant in developing countries and causes high mortality rates among pregnant women. The vaccine-production approach is also being used against the Hepatitis C virus. It uses as a vector an insect virus harmless to humans and inexpensive and easy to cultivate.

Professor Manley E. West, a Jamaican pharmacologist, with the aid of Dr Albert Lockhart, an ophthalmologist, developed a treatment for glaucoma using the marijuana plant (Cannabis saliva). Glaucoma causes impaired vision or blindness through increased pressure within the eye. Having learned that Jamaican fishers claimed a concoction of plant stems and leaves and rum improved their night vision, West and Lockhart prepared a substance called Canasol. It not only treats glaucoma by relieving the pressure, but also appears to improve glaucoma patients’ night vision. Lockhart notes that the incidence of glaucoma seems lower among the rastafarians, a Jamaican religious group that uses cannabis in many of its rituals (West 1991).

Dr Salomon Hakim of Colombia developed a valve to treat hydrocephalus, a potentially life-threatening condition known popularly as water on the brain. In hydrocephalus, excessive amounts of cerebrospinal fluid accumulate in the ventricles of the brain, producing dementia, which is characterized by unsteady and slow gait and, occasionally, urinary incontinence. Dr Hakim’s valve, now being used worldwide, diverts the fluid elsewhere in the body. For this achievement, he was awarded Colombia’s National Prize for Scientific Merit in October 1993.

Advances in Agriculture

The Third World has also made many important scientific advances in food crop production. A large proportion of these advances have come from international agricultural research centres (IARCS), financed through and overseen by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Nyle C. Brady, former Director General of the first such Centre, is now a senior United Nations (UN) consultant.

Interviewed during CGIAR’s 1993 “Centres Week” meeting in Washington, he said that most of the 1700 senior scientists representing 60 nationalities in the IARCs are from the Third World, and that the research is conducted in 18 Third World locations. He concluded that many of the IARCs’ accomplishments should be considered successes of Third World science.

The earliest and perhaps best-known accomplishment was the development of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice that, together with a package of production practices, led to the “Green Revolution.” Norman Borlaug, the American agricultural scientist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his part in this epochal accomplishment,3 gave major credit to Indian and Pakistani scientists in his acceptance speech. He said that the All-India Coordinated Wheat Improvement Program was “largely responsible for the wheat revolution in India” that eventually led to self-sufficiency in the country’s wheat production.

He also singled out Indian plant geneticist Dr M.S. Swaminathan “for first recognizing the potential value of the Mexican [dwarf varieties],” without which “it is quite possible that there would not have been a green revolution in Asia.” At a 1985 meeting of the IARCs, Brady said that most of the successful varieties in the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) international testing program originated in the national programs of Third World countries, rather than at IRRI.

Third World agricultural advances are not confined solely to the IARCs. For example, Viet Nam transformed itself from a chronic rice importer to one of the world’s top three exporters in a single decade (Miller 1994). The key to its success was the 1981 introduction of a scheme that put major decision-making control in the hands of individual farmers, replacing the collective farming system established after North and South Viet Nam were unified in 1975. Dr Vo-Tong Xuan, agronomist and Vice-Rector of the country’s University of Cantho, and member of the National Assembly of Viet Nam, received the 1993 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service - one of Asia’s highest honours - for his part in the transformation.

As another example, Chinese scientists developed genes and elements of a pollen-control system from rapeseed that has led to development of a superior crop variety with built-in disease resistance and higher seed yield. The new variety, developed in Canada in a joint research project funded by IDRC, will benefit both countries. Cultivated in China for 4000 years, rapeseed is the country’s most important oil crop and its fifth largest crop after rice, wheat, maize, and cotton. But the nutritive value of Chinese rapeseed oil is low, and the meal cannot be used for animal feed.

In Canada, however, all rapeseed is canola, a variety high in nutritional value. Since its introduction in 1974, Canadian rapeseed production has increased rapidly to the point where, in 1994, it surpassed wheat as the Prairie farmers’ highest income earner. Seeds from the new variety will be released to Canadian farmers for planting in the spring of 1995.

In pisciculture, research in the 1970s by Dr Rafael D. Guerrero III, Director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development, led to the 1994 release of a “super tilapia” - a fish six times bigger than ordinary members of the breed (Depthnews 1993). Tilapia is second only to milkfish as the most important cultured fish in the Philippines; it is also important throughout Asia and Africa.

Although uncontrolled reproduction in ponds leads to overcrowding, Dr Guerrero discovered that if fry are given male hormone-treated feed, 90% of the females are converted into functional males, thereby greatly reducing the reproduction rate. Freed from reproductive concerns, the fish channel all their energies into growth and become much larger. In response to fears about feeding humans fish treated with sex hormones, Welsh researchers recently discovered how to manipulate tilapia genetically so that breeding produces only males. In collaboration with Filipino scientists, this discovery led the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM) to release the “super tilapia.”

Challenging the Northern Leader

So promising were the prospects of increased agricultural production throughout the world that, in 1989, William R. Furtick, Dean Emeritus of the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, told a meeting of American university experts that he feared for the United States’ traditional lead in agricultural research. “We have been leading for so long, we just assume this will persist,” he said. “During the past few years the United States has gone from a major exporter of new agricultural technology to a net importer.... During the next 10 years we can expect to import most of our new technology” (Furtick 1989).

Asked in 1994 if this expectation had proved true, he answered: “Oh I think it has definitely proved true. If you look now at practically all of the genetic material in horticulture, it is coming from abroad. Practically all of the engineering technology is coming from abroad. Probably the only place where we’re excelling [in the United States] is in the use of computers in agriculture.”

To what sort of engineering technology did he refer?

“Equipment, machinery - look at the machinery for everything from processing to production. More and more of it is either made abroad or, as I say, painted abroad,” came his answer.

Where is it coming from?

“Quite a wide diversity of areas in the world. More and more of our basic machinery is coming from Japan and the Tigers of Asia: Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, China - all of them major suppliers of the equipment and technology that went into that equipment.”

According to Dr Furtick, much of the world’s agricultural research is now undertaken by researchers in developed countries outside North America and by Third World researchers. As well, there is considerable joint-venture activity, even in Japan. “For example,” he says, “Japan is working jointly with some of the developing countries in technology development, and using the developing countries more and more as a manufacturing base for that technology for Japanese export.”

Furtick urged greater us linkage with the IARCs, which he called “one of the most dynamic components of the global research system. They have become more and more a leader of the orchestra of science in developing countries, in which they’ve provided continuing in-service training, updating their technology capabilities, working with them to channel and direct them, and working with them so that they have become the focal point of improved technology development by the Third World country scientists.”

According to Dr Furtick, although his 1989 speech was very well received, there has not been much follow-up. “President Bush’s agricultural adviser sent out about 5 000 copies of it [the speech] under White House letterhead to all the American agribusinesses, and the land grant association sent around 6 000 to 10 000 copies to university and industry types all over the country. So it got an incredible distribution in the United States. There were lots of letters and telephone calls and interest in it, but basically agricultural research investment has been contracting at a faster rate in the United States ever since.”

Why was this?

“Basically because agricultural research [traditionally] has been heavily [carried out] in the public sector compared to most research in the United States, and the public sector [support] has been contracting,” reasoned Dr Furtick.

Recently, he said, there has been a shift, with the private sector increasing its proportion of agricultural research activity. But that trend, in turn, is partly due to the reduction of research done by the public sector.

Going Beyond Basic Needs

The scientific and technological exploits of the Third World range across a wide spectrum, as will be shown in more detail in Chapter 3. They include research in some highly advanced fields, as well as the more practical ones such as agriculture. For example:

- Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and Taiwan are each building highly sophisticated synchrotron radiation facilities. Besides their contribution to knowledge, these installations can be used industrially to make such products as computer chips.

- The electrical engineering laboratory at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, designs very large-scale integrated circuits for manufacture by firms like Samsung.

- Korea’s electronics industry does extensive research on advanced semiconductors (Kinoshita 1993).

- At the University of YaoundCameroonian Professor Tonye is building prototypes of small, inexpensive satellite dishes that could be manufactured locally with local materials and used for communal television reception in African villages.

- Although the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, was established primarily to promote basic research among Third World scientists, it is also involved in such practical areas as laser photonics for analyzing drinking water and in making new materials from local sources.

It is apparent that the common view of the South as a scientific and technological backwater is an over-simplification. There is no doubt that, in terms of quantity, the South lags far behind the North. More than 80% of the global scientific research and technological development effort is made by the developed countries of the West and Japan - broadly speaking, the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), according to Unesco. And in 1990, there were 3 600 scientists and engineers for every million people in the North, but only 200 for every million in the South.

A Complicated Picture

Yet the picture varies enormously between different regions and countries of the South. The share of world research and development expenditure by African countries was a mere 0.2% in 1990, while, collectively, Latin America and the Caribbean’s share was 0.6% and the Arab States’ 0.7%, compared to Asia’s 19.6%.4

The newly industrialized countries of East Asia are far ahead of other countries in the South; they spend more proportionately on research and development (R&D) than do some countries in the OECD. South Korea’s R&D expenditure as a proportion of gross national product (GNP), for example, was 1.9% in 1990, compared to Italy’s 1.1% in 1988. South Korea’s goal is to reach 5% by the year 2000.

Seven developed countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and the United States) produce 75% of the total world scientific literature, while all the countries of Latin America contribute little more than 1%. And of these, five countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela) are responsible for 85% of the region’s output (Unesco 1993).

It is also true that the South’s potential in science and technology is far greater than the current reality. The following chapters will examine some of the reasons for this. And a look at some of the achievements of Southern scientists, described later in this book, should dispel any possible doubts about Third World capacities for science.

Changes Are Underway

Attitudes toward science and technology and how they are conducted in the Third World are changing significantly. The number of scientists in some Third World countries is increasing, for example. There were 4 064 full- and part-time scientists and engineers in Mexico in 1971; by 1984, the figure had more than quadrupled to 16 679, according to Unesco.

Brazil’s scientific and engineering population climbed from 38 713 in 1983 to 52 863 just 2 years later, excluding military and defence personnel and those in private enterprise. Similarly, Peru had 1925 scientists and engineers (including those in scientific services) in 1970, but a decade later there were 9171. Venezuela’s nonmilitary scientific and engineering workforce totalled 2809 in 1973 and 4568 a decade later. One of the most striking growths occurred in Korea, where the 18434 figure of 1980 had more than tripled by 1988.

Women in Third World Science

All developing countries did not post increases in scientific and engineering personnel, however. In some countries - in the Philippines in the early to mid-1980s, for example - there was even a regression. Yet the number of women scientists there has been on the rise.

A 1993 study by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) and the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), reported that “women’s participation in agricultural research has increased markedly in the Philippines over the past two decades,” to the point where “more than half of the agricultural scientists in public-sector research are women.” The study also showed that in Thailand’s public sector in 1992 women comprised 44% of agricultural researchers with a master’s or doctoral degree in sciences; in Sri Lanka in 1991, the proportion was 28% in 19 research institutes (ISNAR and PCARRD 1993) ISNAR sees the increasing participation of women in agricultural science as a worldwide phenomenon. “For example,” it says, “in the United States only 7% of the doctorates in science and engineering were awarded to women in the 1950s. By the 1980s, their share of doctorates in science and engineering had increased to 25%. In the Third World, agricultural research is one area where there is an increasing number of women available to professional careers, especially in Asia.”

In a special 1994 issue entitled “Women in Science,” Science showed that female researchers in a number of Third World countries are better off than their sisters in developed countries. After conducting a study of the literature and interviews with women scientists in a range of nations, Science reported that: “In countries now undergoing economic development, including Mexico, Argentina, and the countries of Eastern Europe, women made up from 20 to 50% of the scientific researchers, compared to fewer than 10% in the United States and northern European nations such as Germany” (Barinaga 1994).

The journal quoted Canadian astronomer Robin Kingsburgh, who completed a doctorate in Mexico, as saying that women in Mexico fare better than in Britain. “The chair of the astronomy department at the University of Mexico is a woman, as are about one-third of the faculty...compared with only 6 women of 64 faculty members in physics and astronomy at University College, London.” Science also quoted a 1990 study by Jim Megaw, former Chairman of the Physics Department at York University in Ontario, that showed between 27 and 60% of physics students receiving doctorates in the Philippines were women, as were more than 30% of the members of Argentina’s International Astronomical Union (Barinaga 1994).

Megaw’s study is one of the few comparing women’s representation in specific scientific disciplines worldwide. Surprisingly, it showed that countries with large physics establishments, high levels of industrial development, and strong women’s rights movements - including the United States, Britain, and Canada - have among the poorest records. In these countries, fewer than 5% of physics faculty were women, and fewer than 12% of physics students receiving doctorates were women.

Why the increasing opportunity for women in some Third World countries? The ISNAR-PCARRD study cites a number of possible reasons: increased educational opportunities for women, emphasis on science in school curriculums, economic and social incentives, the relative gender neutrality of science, and the nondiscriminatory environment found in government and university research jobs.

There are, of course, off-setting factors: rarely do women in the Third World occupy decision-making positions, and the jobs in science open to them tend to be lower paying, which is why more men do not take them.

Bringing Third World Science to the Fore

The visibility of science and technology in the South is also increasing. In 1964, Abdus Salam, the Pakistani theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate, saw the realization of his idea of an International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), which would foster advanced research, particularly among Third World scientists. Under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and through the generosity of Italy, the Centre was located in Trieste.

In 1983, the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) - again proposed by Abdus Salam - was also founded in Trieste. The Academy is an international forum uniting the most distinguished scientists and technologists from the South “for the purpose of promoting scientific capacity and excellence for sustainable development in the South.” In 1993, TWAS had 325 members from 54 developing countries, including all the living Nobel Laureates.

Since 1964, a whole complex of Third World science institutes has sprouted up along the shores of the Adriatic Sea around the Gulf of Trieste, including one devoted to genetic engineering and biotechnology, another to high technology, and another to women in science. This little kingdom of science, whose uncrowned monarch is Abdus Salam, flourishes in relative obscurity in an idyllic setting on and near the grounds of picturesque Duino Castle.

Salam is a legendary figure. Born in the small, remote country town of Jhang, Pakistan, in 1926, he was educated at Government College, Lahore, and St John’s College, Cambridge. Early in his boyhood he showed academic promise, topping his province and breaking all previous records in his matriculation examinations. A devoted scholar, he earned his doctorate in theoretical physics from Cambridge in 1952. Twenty-seven years later, he, Sheldon Glashow, and Steven Weinberg of the United States won the Nobel Prize “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including inter alia the prediction of the weak neutral current.”

Revered by his colleagues, Salam had only one passion other than physics: promoting scientific research in the hope of eliminating Third World poverty. The extensive programs of the institutes he has established put scientists from the South and North more closely in touch with one another; provide promising scientists in the South with research facilities necessary for their work; recognize, support, and promote excellence in scientific research in the South; and encourage research on major Third World problems. Many national academies of science have also sprung up in the South in recent years, influenced, in part, by scientists in Trieste. The African Academy, for example, has 100 Fellows.

Reversing the Brain Drain

Some Third World countries - including Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela - are trying to reverse the brain drain by offering their scientists incentives to return home. Colombia has a program known as Red Caldas, designed to establish connections with its scientists living abroad in the hope of repatriating them. In the spring of 1994, the Argentinean Embassy in Washington scheduled a meeting with its scientists living in the United States to strengthen their ties with Argentina. Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela subsidize the salaries of some of their scientists who agree to work at home.

The newly industrialized countries (NICS; also known as the Asian Tigers), which for years saw a massive exodus of their scientific talent, now are seeing a majority return home as a result of the increasingly tempting opportunities opening up for them there.

“While the number of young people going abroad for advanced degrees continues to swell,” reported Science in October 1993, “a majority are now returning home, drawn by new opportunities and improved living conditions. Even scientists who have lived in the West for decades are going back to run institutes and to help bring Asian science into the international mainstream. The once-lamented brain drain is proving to be a brain reserve of immeasurable worth” (Kinoshita 1993).

These countries are the success stories of the Third World as far as science and technology are concerned. As Sogo Okamura, President of Tokyo Denki University, and Reg Henry, Senior Lecturer in Environmental and Science Policy at Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia, said in Unesco’s World Science Report 1993: “Today, Asia’s NIC model is a paradigm of the use of science to achieve development, and one which continues to offer hope to less successful developing countries.” For example:

- Beijing, China, hosts more than 2 000 enterprises developed by researchers from institutes of the Academy of Sciences and the universities. Shanghai, its industrial capital, is home to research centres in physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, cell biology, lasers, and optics, as well as the country’s first biotechnology centre.

- Singapore has one of Asia’s foremost biology laboratories, the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, and is developing a 30-hectare science and technology park including residences, cultural centres, and pubs. The tiny island country has a project to link all its homes, schools, offices, universities and industries through fibre optics, and turn it into the high-tech communications centre for all Asia.

- South Korea - whose 13-year-old students beat out their counterparts from Britain, Ireland, Spain, and the United States in a mathematics and physics competition in 1989 - is building a powerful and advanced synchrotron radiation facility for the Pohang Institute of Science and Technology. A group of the country’s young researchers have set as their goal two Nobel Prizes by the year 2010.

- Taiwan’s Hsinchu Industrial Park contains 140 firms and the Synchrotron Radiation Research Centre, which serves firms in the park and the universities. Eight microchip manufacturers have sprung up in the past decade, turning the park into a miniature version of California’s Silicon Valley.

- Hong Kong’s new University of Science and Technology was created expressly to promote research to enable the territory to become a high technology-based economy.

The South’s Unique Potential

Recently, the North has paid increasing attention to the scientific potential of the Third World, for example, in the search for new drugs. A flyer for the September 1994 issue of Ethnobotany and the Search for New Drugs, which details the proceedings of a Ciba Foundation symposium, says:

The potential for further discoveries is clearly enormous and ethnobotany has recently become of renewed interest in the search for novel pharmaceuticals.... The basis of ethnobotany is the vast knowledge that is traditionally the preserve of witch doctors, shamans, and tribal healers. This irreplaceable knowledge is rapidly being lost through the destruction of both natural habitats and indigenous cultures.

In 1991, in the first agreement of its kind, the world’s largest pharmaceutical firm, Merck & Co., signed an agreement with National Biodiversity Institute of Costa Rica allowing the company to engage in “chemical prospecting” and to seek beneficial substances in unexplored flora and fauna. In return for $1 million to train local biologists and a percentage of royalties on any drugs it may develop from Costa Rican plants, Merck receives the rights to new microbial insect and plant drugs that may be found in Costa Rica’s nature preserves. The firm will also donate part of its profits from the drugs to Costa Rica’s conservation efforts.

More than 120 clinically useful prescription drugs worldwide are already derived from plants, including the anticancer agents vinblastine and vincristine, morphine, codeine, quinine, atropine, and digitalis (Abelson 1990). About 74% of them came to the attention of pharmaceutical houses because of their use in traditional medicine. Most grow in the tropics - a large proportion in the rain forests of the developing world. Yet only about 5 000 of a possible 250 000 to 300 000 plant species have been studied extensively for medical purposes.

As Christopher Joyce says in his 1994 book, Earthly Goods: Medicine-Hunting in the Rainforest, it is remarkable that in the history of medicinal plant-hunting despite thousands of years of experimentation, humans have barely touched what nature has to offer. Even the known is forgotten and then rediscovered. Take the crocus, for example, one of the plants listed in Dioscorides’ famous herbal. Dioscorides recommended that a species of the flower then called Ephemera, later given the Latin name Colchicum parnassicum, be soaked in wine as a poultice for treating tumours. The plant, from the lily family, in fact contains colchicine, an alkaloid from which a powerful treatment for granulocytic leukemia is now made. Even the world’s most common medicine can be traced to a decoction from the white willow that Dioscorides recommended for gout. It took 800 years for chemists to find what gave willow juice its analgesic effects. It was a compound called salicin. Salicin was modified to become salicylic acid, which was effective against skin diseases but which could not be taken internally. Eventually, in 1899, German chemists turned salicylic acid into acetylsalicylic acid. They called it aspirin.

As the Merck agreement shows, the North is beginning to recognize its obligation to repay the privilege of profiting from the natural resources of the South. Another example is a small Californian company called Shaman Pharmaceuticals, started up in 1992 by a young investment analyst, Lisa R. Conte.

Shaman Pharmaceuticals calls itself an ethnobotanical enterprise, and is the first and, perhaps, only firm that searches for new drug possibilities specifically among the traditional practices of indigenous peoples, mainly living in tropical forests. With the help of qualified scientific advisers, Shaman turns up promising leads and then initiates research to develop them into new drugs such as an antiviral agent to be used against respiratory diseases. Conte has promised anyone who helps in the successful development of the new drugs, including landowners, farmers and indigenous groups, a share of the profits. The company has also swapped modern medical treatment for plant information among indigenous people.

This is an area where much remains to be done. Countries of the North have long exploited traditional knowledge gained from the South without adequately compensating the communities from which the knowledge springs. And how is fair compensation determined? Joyce (1994) continues:

If a plant-drug is found in a tract of Ecuadorian forest, it will probably make money for its North American developers and investors, but one drug may not be enough to convince Ecuador to protect much more of its forests. Nor would it automatically guarantee a better life for people living in those forests. The rubber tappers of the Brazilian Amazon, for example, pioneered sustainable harvesting for a Western market, yet they must supplement their income from rubber with farming and other activities that clear land, and over half of these men and women are in debt and live in poverty. Indeed, no international law clearly states that indigenous people “own” their knowledge or the plants and animals they use or grow on their land. For that matter, personal ownership of such things is often alien to their way of life. To introduce the idea of profit in return for medicinal plants and traditional knowledge might make them wealthier, but it will hasten the westernization of their culture as well.

Natural Pesticides

Besides being the source of drugs, Third World plants can provide a host of other benefits. The neem tree, native to India and Burma, can provide natural pesticides with remarkable effectiveness against more than 200 species of insects, including mosquitoes (which cause malaria), the desert locust (which lays waste to agricultural crops and trees), and cockroaches (BOSTID 1992). In addition, this wonder tree contains compounds that fight tooth decay, viruses, and a variety of bacteria - and whose seed kernels can even be used to produce a potent spermicide (see Chapter 4). Indian researchers have been studying some of these characteristics for more than 70 years, but the North only began noticing them in the early 1970s.

Third World animals also hold the potential for new drugs: a chemical extracted from the skin of an Ecuadorian frog has shown itself to be a painkiller 200 times as potent as morphine. Called epibatidine, the chemical seems to work by blocking formerly unknown receptors in the brain (Emsley 1992).

A Third World Medical Alternative

Even a Third World treatment for diarrhea is now being promoted for use in developed countries. Ironically, it was first considered too primitive for modern societies. Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) makes use of a special mixture of water, sugar, and salt to replace body fluids lost - often to the point of life-threatening dehydration - in diarrhea. In the Third World, more than one-third of deaths in children under 5 years old (4 million per year) are associated with diarrhea. Diarrheal diseases account for about 30% of hospital admissions in many developing countries, where treatment involves expensive intravenous administration of fluids (Bolido 1994).

ORT, on the other hand, makes use of prepackaged mixtures that, dissolved in water, can be administered by mouth at home. It is cheap and reliable, and does not need expert, trained personnel. The United Nations estimates ORT saves the lives of a million children worldwide every year.

But diarrhea is not just a Third World problem: 16 million American children under the age of 5 also suffer from it each year, 360 000 are hospitalized and hundreds die from it. Recently the us Agency for International Development (USAID) - which for years distributed ORT packages to developing countries - began promoting use of ORT at home under Medicaid, and a national program has been started to educate doctors about it (AP 1993).

ORT was used for centuries in the Third World as a folk remedy for diarrhea, but was established on a scientific basis only in 1968, through what is now known as the International Centre for Diarrheal Research in Bangladesh. Used with dramatic success by a young Indian doctor, Dilip Mahalanabis, when cholera broke out in refugee camps during the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, ORT finally achieved worldwide credibility. The British medical journal The Lancet referred to it as “potentially the most important medical advance this century.”

Working Together on Global Problems

This new recognition of the South’s scientific potential is good news, especially in light of the enormous problems facing us today, such as global warming, desertification, the El Nino phenomenon, and the destruction of tropical forests. These problems cannot be solved by the North alone. Developing countries cover 60% of the Earth’s land mass, and many of the measurements necessary to any program of a global nature must be made there.

The North must depend on the South not only for participation in such programs, but also for the South’s cooperation in preventing further destruction through, for example, attempts to reduce emission of greenhouse gases, atmospheric and water pollution, depletion of the atmospheric ozone layer, and forest preservation.

Recent findings about the contribution of biomass burning to ozone depletion highlight the need for the cooperation of developing countries. An article by Stein Mano and Meinrat Andreae in the 4 March 1994 issue of Science shows that bromine is 20 to 60 times as efficient at destroying ozone as chlorine, which, through chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS), has previously been considered the chief ozone destroyer. Methyl bromide is the single largest source of stratospheric bromine and, until recently, was thought to come mainly from ocean emissions and agricultural pesticides. Now methyl bromide has been found in smoke from wildfires in savannas, chaparral, and boreal forests, and the global emissions from this source are estimated to account for as much as 30% of the total. And it is in developing countries that most of this nonindustrial pollution occurs.

Ways in which the North and South can collaborate to solve these problems together will be discussed in Chapter 6. First let us examine how the South, which once led the world in science, began to lag behind the North.