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May 1991 - Issue No. #05
Do you know how much your life is? The answer: up to 20 million yen, if you have life insurance covering you and if you die of cancer; up to 40 million yen, if you are insured and are killed in a car accident. But somewhere on this Earth, a person's life is only 700 yen, or only about $5. Cheap, isn't it? Today I'd like to tell you how I spent 3000 yen out of my pocket to buy about four lives, each priced at 700 yen.
It all happened last autumn, when I was reading and came across a strange term: schistosomiasis japonciam. It was the name of a certain deadly disease. As you can guess from the name, the disease used to be found in Japan. It is now gone from our country. But only several hours flight from Japan will take you to a place where this disease is still rampant. The place I am talking about is the Philippines.
The number of Filipino patients of schistosomiasis is close to 500,000. This figure is two and half times larger than the number of cancer patients in Japan.
Schistosomiasis is an infectious disease caused by small parasites known as Miyairi Snails. They enter the human body through the skin and damage the kidney and other organs. The disease will make the stomach swell to look like that of a pregnant woman. Eggs of the snails will stop up blood vessels in the brain. Patients will be paralyzed, and 75 percent of them will die within two and a half years, a death rate higher than that of cancer. What's worse, schistosomiasis often takes the life young adults, leaving their family with no source of income. Fortunately, there is an effective medicine for this disease. It's called plaziquantel.
In the Philippines, beginning in 1973, a Japanese organization by the name of Japanese International Cooperating Association (JICA), carried out a project to exterminate the disease on Leyte Island, and achieved a great success. JICA cured a surprising 80 percent of the island's patients.
I wish I could give my story a happy ending. I wish I could say that we Japanese continued to help the people of the Philippines and, as a result, there is not a single schistosomiasis patient in the Philippines now. I'm afraid that the truth is that the government no longer provides medication to the Philippines, simply because Japan has recently had so many other ODA (Official Development Assistance) projects that she can't concentrate on schistosomiasis alone. The government of the Philippines doesn't have the money or the expertise to take over for JICA. Thus, still now, thousands of people die of this disease every year. The patients are dying at this very moment.
A small but steady project is underway at Kofu Hospital in Japan to help the Filipino patients. Dr. Hayashi, who was a member of the JICA project, has been raising funds to buy the medicine, plaziquantel. However, there are still many areas in that country that Hayashi's service has not yet reached.
I mentioned 700 yen at the beginning of my speech. That is the price of plaziquantel to cure on schistosomiasis patient. Seven hundred yen is all the money you need to buy a life. Recently I have donated 3000 yen to Hayashi's project, which will buy plaziquantel for four patients. I'm proud of that decision.
There are many charities to which you can contribute money. You should help poor people become less poor; you could help schools to have more books. But I am proud that I have saved real people from dying.
We university students often dream and speak of happiness for mankind. I have grown tired of just speaking and dreaming. I want to take action. That's why I donated 3000 yen. That's why I have decided to get up here today and share with you my little story about how I save the lives of four individuals who live only a few thousand miles from here.
Money makes the world go round. And if we take action, it will even make those troubled parts of it go round.
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