Africa must wake up as we face the coronavirus

By Ben Patrick, PhD fellow

Is Africa looking for a vaccine or cure for COVID-19 or Africa as usual is looking to the west and the east for salvation? Are our minds so colonially conditioned that when we think of medical solutions we think of Europe, America and Asia?

Has Africa always had men and women of no medical ingenuity and scientific inquiry but glorified medical artisans whose competency is measured by regurgitation of European theories and practices. By the way has African woken to the realization that every pandemic comes with movement of money.

AIDS has seen billions of dollars move from Africa to Europe. Malaria everyday moves money from Africa to Europe so does TB and many other diseases. I wonder in what direction money will be moving this time around but what I know is that money will leave African in bulk to Europe, China, India etc to buy masks, sanitizers, medicines and vaccines.

The conventional western approach to medicine works but is not the only system that works. It is not the first time Africa is hit by a pandemic.

History will tell you that the earliest recorded pandemic happened during the Peloponnesian War. This was after the disease passed through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, it then crossed the Athenian walls as the Spartans laid siege. As much as two-thirds of the population died. How did the Africa of that time survive this pandemic?

I have not been to China but when I was working with HRS, I had a chance to train students and health professionals on Human Resource for Health. One thing I got to learn is that China puts a strong emphasis on Chinese medicine.

India puts a strong emphasis on Indian medicine but an African was brainwashed to abhor and scorn his knowledge. African medicine that saved our forefathers from creation till the advent of a white man in the 1800s is seen as demonic and impotent and soon will go extinct. An African is now convinced that what heals must always come in a white tablet and given to you by someone wearing a white coat.

The question then is how did Africa handle pandemics in the past. If Africa will save herself she must stop living like a prostitute whose hope of survival is ever from outside from the big men with heavy pockets. Africa must begin to look within and like a virtuous woman work herself to prosperity.

In the words of the WHO Director General I will say Africa must wake up. While we must welcome and appreciate western medicine and western efforts we must not cast our African medical knowledge away.

Has African medical knowledge always been primitive? The answer is a big NO. A medical anthropologist in the name of Robert W Felkin who visited the kingdom of Bunyoro in eastern Africa in the late 1800s describes how the men of that kingdom as early as 1879 were able to perform successful caesarean sections.

This was at a point in time that Europe was unable to do such a procedure and guarantee life. But the men and women of what we now call Uganda, Tanzania and Congo were doing such advanced surgical procedures in the 1800s.

Felkins records them using banana wine to clean wounds. They understood antiseptic techniques as they disinfected the surgical wounds with banana wine. It had to take Europe more than 70 years later to understand the importance of antiseptic procedures.

Today we are talking of ethanol and isopropyl ethanol in hand sanitizers this might be new science to the western world but not to Africa.

An outbreak of sleeping sickness in 1902 in the same kingdom was cured by Yangoma after a grant given by the king in the interest of science.

Amputations where being done in Sudan as early as 1845. An epidemic of syphilis in Bunyoro was contained by inoculation or vaccination of children to prevent the spread of syphilis in 1800s in something that medical knowledge then condemned but later came to adopt.

African medical universities must introduce a course I would call Afropharmacology a course that will dive into Afrocentric medical anthropology and pharmacology to unearth the rich archives of medical knowledge that is going into extinction.

Much as we thank our western brothers and sisters for the help they continue to render to Africa, we can’t just be spectators, recipients and at worst a market for western medical and pharmaceutical products. African must wake up and bring something to the table. See you at the top.

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