An Irresistible Force

It might seem odd to describe Hamsatou, a 13-year-old girl in the West African country of Niger, as lucky. A mysterious flesh-eating disease known as "the Grazer" has consumed the left side of her face, leaving a gaping hole at the side of her nose, through which you can see her pink, unprotected tongue. She shields her head in embarrassment in her village, has no prospect of marriage, and rarely walks further than the nearby well. "When I go to the market," she says, "I'm ashamed of myself. I cover my face so people won't stare at me and laugh."

But Hamsatou is lucky because she is alive. One in three children in Niger, the world's poorest country, do not reach 5 years of age. And while the Grazer will kill 120,000 children in the world this year, a $3 mouthwash would have ensured she need never have succumbed to its ravages. Unfortunately the government of Niger does not have $3 to spare. Three quarters of its annual tax revenue is spent on servicing its $1.4 billion international debt.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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