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November 28, 2007

Ed Dodge: Remembering Africa

Every country has its own cultural barriers to health, and they transcend the dichotomy of the developed world and the developing world. Ed Dodge knows firsthand that habits are hard to break. A physician and former public health official, he provided the example of Ethiopian parents who routinely give their 8-day-old infants traditional uvulectomies, a procedure in which the infant’s uvula is excised from the soft palette using horse hair. Despite their knowledge that the procedure provides no benefit, the parents continue with the tradition. In the developed world, he said, we face equally challenging cultural barriers to health, as we maintain debilitating habits—smoking, fatty diets, pollution, stress—in spite of our knowledge of their harmful effects.

This observation, as well as other recollections of his personal and professional experiences in Africa, were presented by Edward Dodge, MD, MPH ’67, on November 15 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Raised by his parents in a medical mission station in Angola, Dodge has worked as an assistant professor of public health in Gondar, Ethiopia and as a family physician in Florida. During his presentation, “Africa through the Years: Angola to Zimbabwe,” he shared his perspectives on his Angolan childhood home, on Ethiopia, and on Zimbabwe, where his father was a liberal-minded former bishop in the Methodist Church before being deported by the white supremacist government of Ian Smith.

During his service at a public health college in Gondar, Dodge trained health officers and worked in an Amba Giorgis clinic, where he treated leprosy, typhus, smallpox and tuberculosis. At the time, there were 22 doctors in a nation with a population of 19 million. In addition, while in Gondar, he conducted a study of infant malnutrition and was able to determine that family income was the major factor, outweighing by far any statistical contribution by religion, marital status or education.

Familiar with the history and culture of Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, Dodge spoke of the nation’s pressing challenges under the current Mugabe government, especially those presented by runaway inflation. He spoke of the country’s “brain drain,” a phenomenon in which Zimbabweans and other Africans are trained at Africa University (a Methodist university near the city of Mutare) but then are forced to emigrate, unable to make a living in-country.

Dodge ended his presentation on an upbeat note, naming several grassroots organizations involved in building and augmenting infrastructure, skills training, micro-financing, indigenous leadership and sustainable agriculture. 
—Christine Grillo

To read the Center for a Livable Future’s article about Dr. Edward Dodge’s presentation, click here.