Education

March 18, 2011

Mauritius a racial melting pot with high life expectancy

The small essay by ALLAN ODHIAMBO from Kenya

It’s shortly after 6pm when the flight from Nairobi touches down at the modest Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport in Port Louis, Mauritius amid light showers.

Barely 20 minutes later I have stepped out of the terminal building where I notice a striking feature of mixed racial backgrounds among the airport ground crew and even taxi operators some of whom are animatedly trying to catch my attention.

My hour long trip into the city, only works to reinforce this feature as I get to meet and see more and more natives with a mixed racial origin.

History profiles show that Mauritius has a rich blend of human races thanks to its background of trade and sugarcane farming that saw several colonisers and visitors dock at its ports.

“Our culture presents a melting pot because we have a gene of almost every race in the world running in our blood,” a resident of Port Louis, Ms Anne Marie Nehru says.

“Just look around and you may realise that there are very few people on the streets of Port Louis who may have a single racial line. Visitors came around and there has been a lot of inter breeding.”  

Portuguese sailors are said to have been the first to arrive in the Indian Ocean Island in the 16th century even though it remained uninhabited until it was colonised in 1638 by the Dutch who then chose to name it Prince Maurice of Nassau.

The Dutch later abandoned the colony in 1710. Upon the exit of the Dutch, the French took over Mauritius in 1715 and renamed it Ile de France.

It became a colony under the French East India Company. The French Government took control in 1767, and the island served as a naval and privateer base during the Napoleonic wars.

But in 1810, Mauritius fell to the British, whose possession of the island was confirmed four years later by the Treaty of Paris.

French institutions, including the Napoleonic code of law, were maintained. The French language is still used more widely than English. The most notable effect of the scramble for Mauritius is its current ethnic diversity.

Apart from the notable blend in racial background, Mauritius also has notable high regard to health matters, an issue that has helped to uphold its very high life expectancy levels.

My experience with Mauritius tough health regulations began right at the airport when I requested to be shown my way out to the visitors’ arrival upon clearing with the Immigration desk.  

To my surprise, one of the Immigration officials interjects but with a broad smile on her face: “ Sorry sir, you still have to clear with the medical desk before you are able to leave the airport facility.”

All other passengers and I requested to proceed to a section of the airport where we find a sizeable team of medical staff keenly screening visitors for any contagious diseases.  

My  inquisitive eyes soon reveal that the officials are particularly keen on holders of passports from countries such as Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) that are believed to have high incidences of deadly diseases.

“Help us protect your health and ours while preventing the spread of diseases such as Chikangunya, Dengue, Malaria and Influenza,” a notice by the Mauritian Health ministry says.

Ms Nehru, says health authorities in the Island nation are traditionally strict on communicable diseases and often catch some visitors by surprise whenever they subject them to elaborate screening procedures.

“By virtue of being an Island the only major threats of disease are from the outside and that must be dealt with at the points of entry. It is cheaper and easier to handle it that way”

Strict screening of visitors for diseases as well as efficient medical systems has ensured Mauritius has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world.

Estimates by the Health ministry show that Mauritius has an average life expectancy rate of 70.53 years among males and 77.65 years for females while the infant mortality rate is about 12.2 per every 1,000.

In Kenya the average life expectancy among males is about 45 years.

“The strict health check is also explained by the fact that Mauritius each years receives visitors the almost the same size of its total population,” Ms Nehru says.

 

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