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TEDGlobal 2007 Session 8: Health and Heroism

Posted by: June Cohen

In a session punctuated by spontaneous applause and quiet tears, three heroes told their stories. If ever you doubt the ability of one person to move the world, any one of these talks would make you a believer.

Ernest Chijioke Madu is determined to bring world-class cardiovascular care to Africa, and stem the tide of elites leaving the continent to seek health care. Relying on foreign hospitals — as most Africa elites do — is neither sustainable nor sensible, in the case of cardiovascular disease, as most deaths occur in the 24 hours following a heart attack or stroke. “If you have a heart attack tonight, what will you do?” he asked. “Will you fly back to the US? To Germany? To France? No. You will die.”

The hospital he’ll build in Nigeria will be modeled after the Heart Institute of the Caribbean, the pioneering clinic he founded, which has a telemedicine platform, so other doctors around hte world can log in and lend advice. It’s helped stem the tide of elites going overseas for medical care, while also offering care for all. “We have a policy of not turning away anyone regardless of ability to pay.” (Can you hear the audience cheering?)

Environmental defender Corneille E.N. Ewango is a tropical botanist and conservation ecologist who risked his own life to protect the okapi reserve in the Congo forest … In 1995, he started work at the reserve, home to elephant, giraffe, okapi, forest giraffe and more than 1,300 plant species, many of them unknown outside the park. There was a coup soon after, and Ewango found himself caught between pillaging rebel soldiers and government forces. Rather than flee, he focused on preserving what he could. He hung important equipment from trees, buried their 4×4 cars in the ground, and packed samples from 4,500 plants on the back of his bicycle, which he pedaled four days to Uganda and back.

A second war soon followed, and Ewango became a one-man reporting bureau, of sorts. Using an Iridium satellite phone, a laptop and a solar panel, he fed information — on troop movements and war crimes — to western NGOs. He won the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for his courageous effort. Now, in a more peaceful time, he’s managing a research project on global warming.

Our final hero, Leon Kintaudi focuses not on the typical African focal points of AIDS, malaria or TB, but on maternal health. The situation in his native Congo was dire when Kintaudi returned to try to improve it: The maternal and child death rates higher than most of the world (1 in 5 children die before age 5). So he founded the SANRU (Santé Rurale) Rural Health Program, a comprehensive program including preventative care, free malaria bednets, vaccinations, drug distribution, while also calling for society wide changes in educating children and promoting laws that protect women.

For more extensive descriptions of each talk, see Ethan Zuckerman‘s real-time posts on Ernest Madu, Corneille Ewango and Leon Kintaudi

Watch for these talks on TED.com beginning midsummer 2007.