MOOMTAZ EMRITH
(Windsor, ON, Canada)

The world’s attention is presently gripped by the outbreak of the Coronavirus, a flu’-like disease that began in the city of Wuhan in China and which has slowly been spreading over in other countries of Asia, Africa – and even Europe and North America. So much so that the whole world is on the alert. New cases of the disease have been detected in several countries – not just in China — almost on a daily basis and the virus doesn’t not appear to be under any control.

Cases have been found among cruise-ship passengers who have been forced into quarantines in Asian ports. The WHO has put the health authorities of the world on alert but has yet to call it a pandemic. The disease is not only taking a toll on human health and lives but also affecting some of the economies of the world – which may lead, in the long run, to serious economic and social problems thereby affecting the lives of millions.

I was struck by the socio-economic impact of the outbreak of the Coronavirus on the lives of people around the world as they face the threat of the spread of the virus as I was reading the very topical book on “Infectious Disease and Public Health in Mauritius (1810-2010) by our fellow-countryman Raj Boodhoo and published last year by Editions Le Printemps. It makes fascinating reading coming as it does just as the world is preoccupied by the scare of the infectious Coronavirus.

I did not have the privilege to know Raj Boodhoo personally until June last year when I was on a short visit to our home island. That meeting was made possible through the courtesy a mutual friend. Until then I had not even heard his name. Yet he was not an unknown figure in the literary circle of Mauritius. He had published books and also several well-researched articles and papers in magazines on medical history and healthcare in Mauritius. He was an adept medical researcher and historian. However, Mr. Boodhoo knew about my humble self through my writings. I was, indeed, pleased to meet him. He is a very simple and unassuming man whose humbleness was equaled by his kindness and modesty. He came from very modest, working class background, he would tell me.

“Like most of us,” I observed.” “And, we all have good reasons to be proud of our roots! We all have come a long way since the time our great-grand-parents came here as indentured labourers.”
“I couldn’t agree more with you!” he concurred. “Ours is a success story!”

Mr. Raj Boodhoo is an historian and researcher of repute. His most recent book consolidates his scholarship and eminence as a researcher in medical history. The book, which runs over five hundred plus pages, is a masterful work on the evolution of public health care in Mauritius. It is written in clear, simple English and contains detailed data with charts and tables on the growth of the effective public health system in Mauritius. It traces, in the words of the author himself, the history of the public health system “covering colonial and post-colonial times, offering new insights into the history of Mauritius.”

However, the scope of the book is broader. It goes beyond the history of public health in Mauritius. It is a record, expertly assembled by someone who proves to be a master at his craft. Mr. Boodhoo demonstrates, in his smooth-flowing style, with the facts and figures, his thorough grasp of the evolution of the public health system in Mauritius since the time it became a British colony in 1810. In fact, the book, though laden with facts and figures, sustains the reader’s interest throughout and literally reads like a ‘novel’.

During our conversation, Mr. Boodhoo told me a little about his professional career in the Mauritius public service. He worked for some time at the Mauritius National Archives and then at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute (MGI) as an Education Officer till he moved to the Mauritius Institute of Education (MIE). He is now retired and spends his time doing, among other things, what he likes best: doing research in history – more particularly on the history of the development of medicine and control of diseases in the colonies. Indeed, if proof was needed, his latest work on Public Health Care in Mauritius is solid proof. The book shows how good Mr. Boodhoo is at this task. I was favourably impressed by his intellectual ability. He is one fellow Mauritian, who definitely is a pride to the country and, who should be hailed and applauded for his intellectual achievement. Yet I realized, to my dismay, few Mauritians had heard of his name or knew of his talents and great research ability or of his published works, which are all of international class.

Mr. Boodhoo, I’m sure, most certainly enjoys among the nabobs in the field, a reputation as an authority in medical history and disease control far beyond the shores of Mauritius – particularly, on the continent of Africa. Indeed, Mauritians like Mr. Boodhoo are a source of pride to our little Mauritius and we, Mauritians, owe him a tip of the hat for his research work in his chosen field.
There is little doubt that Mr. Boodhoo has put in lots of hours and effort at the libraries researching his book. However, his modesty would not allow him to admit that he had indeed broken new grounds in the field. He felt that there was more to be done. “Mauritius has a remarkable health care system – probably one of the best in the African Zone,” he asserted to me. “But there is still much to be done. I’d like others to continue what I’ve begun.”