Exclusive: in America, the countryare rampant, the first study of its kind in modern times Reveals
Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.
These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places generally associated with them in the growing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.
Scientists in Houston, Texas, have raised the lid on one of America’s darkest and deepest secrets: that concealed under fabulous wealth, the US tolerates poverty-related disease at levels comparable to the world’s poorest countries. Over one in three people sampled in a bad region of Alabama tested positive for traces of hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite which was believed to have been eradicated from the US decades ago.
The long-awaited findings, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, are a wake-up forecast for the world’s only superpower as it grapples with growing inequality. Donald Trump has promised to “Make America Great Again” and handle the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, however, he has said very little about enduring chronic poverty, particularly in the southern countries.
The study, the first of its kind in modern times, was carried out by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in conjunction with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), a non-profit group seeking to tackle the root causes of poverty. In a survey of people living in Lowndes County, an area with a long history of racial discrimination and inequality, it found that 34% tested positive for genetic signs of Necator americanus.
The parasite, better known as hookworm, travels around the body until it attaches itself to the small intestine where it proceeds to suck the blood of its host, and enters the body through the skin through the soles of feet. Over years or months it causes iron deficiency and anemia, weight loss, fatigue and mental function, particularly in children, helping to trap them.
Hookworm was rampant in the south of the US in the 20th century, sapping the energy and educational accomplishments of both white and black kids and helping to make the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it’d disappeared altogether by the 1980s.
But the new study reveals that hookworm survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. Not one of the people had travelled outside the US, yet as was shockingly waste treatment, parasite exposure was found to be widespread.
The peer reviewed research paper, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, focuses on Lowndes County, Alabama — the home state of the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and a landmark region in the history of the nation’s civil rights movement. “Bloody Lowndes”, the region was called in reference to the violent response of white residents towards attempts to reverse racial segregation in the 1950s.
It was through this county which Martin Luther King led marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in search of voting rights for black citizens, More than half a century later, King’s dream of what he called the “dignity of equality” remains elusive for many of the 11,000 residents of Lowndes County, 74 percent of whom are African American.
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us