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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2018-19

MALS 367 The Biology and Politics of Starvation

In 1948, the UN drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In it, Article 25 states  that “Everyone has the right medical care.” But today almost 800 million people globally – one in about 8 human beings -- remain trapped in extreme hunger and poverty. Despite major strides during the past decade, hunger and poverty remain with us. This course will detail the plight of the so-called “bottom billion” people who are living on less than US$1.25 a day. But it will also examine a second billion, who face chronic hunger and disease in both developing and developed countries. In the United States, for example, some 45 million people – about one in 7 Americans – suffer “chronic food insecurity”. More than half of them are children; 8 percent are elderly.

Despite the good intentions of the Universal Declaration and the more recent Millennium Goals, we have failed to achieve “health and well-being . . . including food, clothing, housing and medical care . . . .” for the world’s people. The Declaration remains today a promise diluted, its basic premise and hope unfulfilled. As its core catalytic question, therefore, this course asks: Why?

The instructors and students will use didactic presentations, case study methodology, briefing papers and other analytical tools to interrogate two broad components:

• The first will define and analyze the hunger, health and poverty problems, and the efforts to resolve them. We will present, discuss and use the major documents (U.N., U.S. Census, etc) along with the theories of Thomas Malthus and Amartya Sen. The course will engage the training of its two instructors and juxtapose the social science of poverty and hunger with the biology of chronic undernutrition and the subsequent increased susceptibility to otherwise preventable or treatable infectious diseases responsible for most of the preventable health problems and deaths among the bottom two billion people.

• The course’s second component will focus on workable solutions. If poverty is the cause of chronic hunger and poor health, how might this be resolved? Were the Millennium Goals focused on the wrong solutions? What is working and what is not?

Dr.  Jim Yung Kim, until recently head of Dartmouth College and now the 12th president of the World Bank, has often said that the response to hunger, poverty and lack of health care will define “the moral standing” of his generation. This course will focus on the defining edge of that moral response, and participants will be expected to identify and address its details. 


John Butterly; Jack Shepherd