The situation in Haiti is no less dire. Again, we need to understand history if we are to understand how human values, and which ones, come into play. Haiti, once France’s most lucrative colony and born of greed and slavery, became an independent republic 200 years ago. Haitians should have much to celebrate. The country is the birthplace of many values that we celebrate as modern, as it was the first nation in the world to outlaw slavery, the source of vast European profits. A slave revolt, unprecedented and unequaled since, transformed the colony of Saint-Domingue into Latin America’s first sovereign nation.
As a physician who has battled infectious diseases in Haiti, Rwanda and elsewhere, I know we are in the midst of a staggering wave of killing, one that brings to question all notions of moral values. The numbers alone are telling. Even if we consider only the big three infectious killers—AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria—we are faced with tens of millions of preventable deaths slated to occur during our lifetimes. A recent document from the United Nations suggests, for example, that more than 80 million Africans might die from AIDS alone by 2025. A similar toll will be taken, on that continent, by tuberculosis and malaria. Adding other infectious killers to the list, the butcher’s bill totals hundreds of millions of deaths over the next few decades.