POLITICAL cataclysms apart, a depressive phenomenon that is multiplying itself in a single region of France has started raising its head repeatedly in the media for the past few days.
In Ain, a beautiful mountainous valley in the east of France by the Swiss border not far from Geneva and known for its excellent Beaujolais wine, at least eighteen babies were born during the last eight years with deformed hands -or no hands at all!
So far, no medical expert has been able to give an exact explanation for this strange but also tragic epidemic.
There of course are a few hypotheses advanced by the agriculturists. One cause, they say, could be the consumption through error by expectant mothers of many a chemical element present in pesticides and in other products used by the farmers. A strong proof, they add, is the fact that all these babies were born in or around eighteen kilometres of Ain. Another distant possibility could be the employment of one or a number of medicaments, once again through mistake or by lack of information, actually meant for farm animals and not for human beings.
Questioned by the media, the authorities do not deny the events but confine themselves to declaring that ‘no definitive explanation of these deformations has so far been reached.’
As far as the Health Minister Agnès Buzyn is concerned, ‘a new inquiry has been launched to establish the cause of these tragic defects among newborns.”
The minister further said the results of the preliminary investigations will be made public on January 31 next year while a full report will be available by the end of June.
An association named Assedea has been formed to defend the cause of families affected by this weird and tragic phenomenon. Its spokesman François Chartier whose own wife has given birth to a baby with missing hands, says: “The good news is that the authorities have finally decided to take these unfortunate happenings more seriously and an extensive research has been launched. But why didn’t they think of doing it much earlier?”
Weekly l’Express in a recent issue published the interview of Dr Emmanuelle Amar, a Lyon based specialist on children’s diseases. She says: “The lives of a number of babies I’ve visited were turned into tragedies the moment they were born. Ryan had no right hand, Sacha and Charlotte had the entire forearms missing. For the parents, the days of birth of these children were transformed into nightmares. The saddest aspect is that these babies can never be treated and cured.”
Loire Valley journalist Jean Leauvergeat says: “It is futile to continue turning this catastrophe into an unending national debate. Let us be practical and concentrate on only two things. Firstly, to discover the real cause and take appropriate measures so that it does not repeat itself. Secondly, to compensate the parents, maybe by granting them early retirements with full benefits, so that they could take care of their disabled children for as long as possible.”
As we were going to the Press, the French media reported similar new incidents in two more regions, the Loire Atlantic and Brittany.
The writer is a journalist based in Paris.
Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2018