Merrill J. Fernando, founder of Dilmah, is seen here lighting a candle to proclaim open this refurbished house which will eventually be home for 20 people, starting with 8. The Merrill J Fernando Foundation is opening a series of homes for the elderly as one of their philanthropic themes to cater for a changing society in which the tradition of care of elderly people by their families is breaking down, for example as children leave to go overseas.
An engraved stone tablet at the entrance to one of the many MJF Foundation Centres conveys the sentiments of Merrill’s reason for establishing the MJF Charitable Foundation to manage his philanthropic projects.
“We come into this world with nothing, we leave with nothing, and the wealth that we acquire in our lifetime is with the effort, involvement and commitment of many others. And so, whilst still amongst those who made my success possible, I would like to share that wealth with those who helped generate it.”
Merrill’s voice provides an alternative perspective to inadequate health care that exacerbates the social challenges of the developing world. Although pharmaceutical companies are very interested in exploiting the bio-diverse species of tropical and subtropical regions for new drugs, there is little interest in developing cures or distributing low cost drugs for the diseases that disproportionately affect the impoverished people of the world. More than 85% of the global market for pharmaceuticals goes to the developed world. The MJF Foundation on the other hand has recently opened a Vedagama (meaning ‘village of healing’). One important aspect of the Vedagamas is a biodiversity project assisted by IUCN, the Conservation Union, whereby several endangered and useful species of indigenous medicinal plants will be cultivated in properties owned, co-owned or managed by MJF Group entities.
17 million people die every year through infectious disease of which Tuberculosis, HIV and Malaria are the most prevalent. Diseases which had been largely eliminated through antibiotics during the 20th century are now showing signs of resurgence. Tuberculosis [TB] is a disease of the respiratory system that has been killing people for thousands of years. Its prevalence declined throughout the 20th century but now drug resistant strains are showing signs of resurgence. It is especially prevalent in impoverished regions of Africa, South America, SE Asia, and Eastern Europe. In the developed world victims are mostly older people. In poor developing nations victims are mostly young adults; TB is by far the leading cause of death amongst young women. One factor causing this is that TB stays in the body controlled by the immune system often for many years. HIV can weaken the immune system allowing the disease to take hold. TB and HIV are therefore closely linked with one third of deaths of HIV positive people resulting from TB. The World Health Organisation [WHO] estimates that one person per second is newly affected with TB, and TB kills more young people, adults and women than any other disease. About three million people a year die from TB. By 2020 the WHO estimates that one billion people will be affected of whom 70 million will die.
About 38 million people are infected with HIV/AIDs. 25 million of these are in Sub Saharan Africa, the majority of whom are women; 8 million are in Asia. 25 million have died in the last 25 years. 2.8 million died in 2005. There is no end in sight because such drugs as are available only reach a tiny fraction of those in need, and efforts to contain the disease are undermined by the resistance of global pharmaceutical companies to a more enlightened approach to drugs for developing nations, poor public health services in developing nations, poverty and attitudes towards women.
Health expenditure as a proportion of GDP is increasing throughout the developed world from current levels of about 8% of GDP, and this trend is set to continue as people live longer and accumulate more financial wealth. This trend provides all manner of enterprise opportunities for health care and related fields. Health and education are the keys to reducing poverty and social unrest in the developing world; ‘bottom of the pyramid’ solutions to these intractable problems promise wealth for sustainable enterprises that can create viable business models