We can?t afford Typhoid Marys

Does the name ring a bell? You probably think of her as a scary persona who pays you a visit at will and flags off the disease, writes Bharati Chaturvedi.

| Updated on: Aug 01 2005, 04:36 IST

Typhoid Mary: Does the name ring a bell? You probably think of her as a scary persona who pays you a visit at will and flags off the disease. But the story of Typhoid Mary as recounted by Judith Leavitt, in her not-so-new but brilliant book Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health, takes us to a different world of biases. In essence, we learn that Mary is a passive carrier of the bacteria and spreads it when she works as a cook in New York nearly a hundred years ago. She has never suffered from the disease and is baffled by the passive carrier argument given by the health authorities as an excuse to seize her.

We also learn that there are a few hundred such carriers in New York, but only Mary ends up spending almost two-and-a-half decades in perfect health, because the state believes that one person's civil liberties may be compromised in the 'larger good.' Leavitt demonstrates how a strong social bias against her lead to her being singled out: she was poor, Irish and a single woman, who was seen to lack desirable, demure, feminine qualities.

But the question Leavitt raises is: how can we control those potentially damaging to public health? In Mary's times, her personal freedom was seized. We can't do this in democratic India, so what are our options? This becomes pertinent in case of toxic plastic manufacturers, contractors, whose trucks spew poison, civic water that sickens and effluents that pollute. The more the world progresses, the more important it is for us to realise how much we need clear and sharp producer accountability if we are to protect ourselves from pollution. Just laws that determine how much a factory can pollute as is the current scenario, aren't enough. Industry itself has to ensure that it constituents are not twenty-first century Typhoid Marys, transmitting sickness wherever their products travel.

Smoking up embryos

Talking of responsibility, fresh research shows a child in the womb whose father smokes or whose mother is a passive smoker, will suffer from the same number of mutations as it would have, had its mother smoked herself. It has been reported by a Pittsburg environmental health researcher Stephen Grant. It may have seemed like common sense, but now that it's confirmed (once more), let's get the smoke out of our lungs.

(If you feel for Planet Earth, write in to earthwatch1@yahoo.co.in)

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First Published Date: 01 Aug, 04:31 IST