During the last two weeks, Sherbourne Priors has welcomed an internationally renowned scientist and humanitarian – Pilar Mateo Herrero. As a biochemical engineer, Pilar has dedicated her life to finding a way of controlling and possibly eradicating insect-borne parasitic diseases such a malaria and Chagas.
Chagas, the scourge of Bolivia’s indigenous population has no cure. There is treatment available, but it is financially out of the reach of most of the people who suffer from it, generation after generation. Not one to be defeated, Pilar Mateo took it upon herself to tackle this seemingly insurmountable problem. She went to Bolivia in 1998 to live with the people, study the Chagas beetle and start a grassroots project to try and eradicate this blight. As head of a company called Inesfly, she developed a house paint that contains microcapsules of insecticide which, once mixed with the paint and applied to the exterior and interior walls of a house, can keep the house insect-free for up to four years.
The importance of this is incalculable. For countries benighted by the spectre of unrelenting poverty, particularly among the indigenous people, capital investment in research to combat disease is notoriously underfunded. For Pilar’s company to have developed and produced such a relatively cheap and simple way of effectively controlling the insects that carry the Chagas parasite is nothing short of miraculous. The hope it has inspired and the generations of suffering it will alleviate cannot be over-estimated.
There is now wide-spread, international interest in Pilar’s work and her revolutionary product. The BBC are busy making a documentary on Pilar’s years in Bolivia and it will also include her next challenge, which is to set up a centre in Ghana to try and combat malaria using this revolutionary product. She has been invited to speak at the Vatican City in 2013 as part of an independently organised TED event. She will be speaking about her work and her vision of eradicating malaria in the southern hemisphere during the 21st century.
Pilar is also a very dedicated ambassador for women’s rights. She is a member of Momim – Indigenous Women of the World Movement -which seeks to give indigenous women back their dignity and promote awareness of the cultures of and the problems faced by indigenous women across cultures and continents. She has very strong feelings about the role of indigenous women in Third World countries – not only as stable and nurturing influences in society, but also as playing a critical role in helping to look after and maintain the good health of the people of these societies. She sees herself as their ally in the fight against the debilitating and endemic parasitic diseases that ravage the poorer Third World countries.
Women like Pilar make me proud to be a woman and students like her make my job one of the most gratifying in the world. It has been a privilege and a pleasure having her at Sherbourne Priors.