News & Media Opinion Pieces Goodbye to Arua, Uganda and the population explosion

Goodbye to Arua, Uganda and the population explosion

If you speak to DEA members you find that they are members of many other organisations concerned with the environment, justice, equity, poverty and helping the poor. All these are epitomised by MSF workers.

Roslyn Brooks DEA member has just returned to Australia after 6 months working in an MSF HIV/AIDS project in Arua, northern Uganda.

Thanks for your inspiring work Ros, it is great to have you as a DEA member.

As an introduction to her final email from Uganda Ros writes to me:

I thought you might like to read my last email, inspired by comments from David Attenborough and Bindy Irwin, recently publicised in the media. Population pressure is the greatest driving force of environmental destruction, but receives relatively little attention. It is heartening when well respected and high profile people speak up about the critical need to limit human population.

Doctors need to speak out too, making it clear that concern about overpopulation is linked with, not opposed to, respect for human life, compassion and care for individuals


Subject: goodbye to Arua

Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2013
Goodbye Arua

This is the last email from Uganda – it does not seem like 6 months since I first arrived here
It was so hard to leave Arua…
The rolling green countryside, the spectacular storms, the golf course with so much going on (but not golf) the circling kites…
And far harder to say goodbye to the hospital, the babies & mothers (and grandmothers) in Nutrition, spunky Dr Tino, the dedicated national staff in all the wards and clinics, and the amazing team of expats who seem like my second family now (and just as ready to accept my oddities as my own family…) It was a wonderful farewell at our final lunch together on Monday; they gave me 2 photo montages of people and scenes from the hospital and expat life, put together by Heidi (It has been so busy – how did she make the time?) – there could not have been a better gift, a fantastic memento of my wonderful time with all of them…

Arua hospital struggles on despite shortages of staff, erratic water and power supply, limited drugs, buildings that are falling into disrepair – shortages of everything but patients – and no end of those or of the huge burden of illness and distress in the community –
TB, HIV, life-threatening infections, malnutrition, chronic heart and lung disease, disability, children who are orphaned, abandoned or neglected – here in the hospital we only see the tip
It is satisfying to work as a doctor in a place where the need is so great – but frustrating too, because we are mostly dealing with the result of entrenched problems, not combating the root causes
Poverty, lack of resources for community needs (despite private wealth that is often  obscene in its display of conspicuous consumption), corruption, lack of education and the low status of women – and above all explosive population growth that white ants efforts to deal with these problems

There are already too many humans on the planet – I can only agree with David Attenborough in describing our species as a plague

Humans are responsible for the most recent mass extinction of species on the planet – past mass extinctions have been caused by natural disasters but this time the responsibility belongs to us. Ourselves part of the delicately balanced web of life, we are degrading and losing forever the ecosystems and habitats that support millions of other forms of life along with our own

As doctors we should be working towards humane limitation of population growth, because for sure our numbers will be controlled – if not by responsible family planning then by the cruel means of famine, epidemic, social upheaval and war, and the most vulnerable are the first victims (as ever) We are remorselessly destroying our own habitat and the resources that supply our vital needs – for fresh air, clean water, food, and space to live decently.

As a doctor I value each individual human and work towards their health, well being and quality of life That quality demands a healthy planet, rich in natural resources and the wilderness that restores our spirit. In the long term it can only be sustained for human numbers far lower than those now existing on earth.

Do we still have a choice? I like to hope so

So you see I am leaving Arua, leaving Uganda, in a reflective mood, so sad to go, longing so much to be home – questioning the future..
Goodbye Arua

see you in Australia!