Viruses and Civilisation

THE history of our planet has been a titanic struggle between viruses and human beings.

For billions of years, viruses and bacteria – small microscopic organisms totally invisible to the human eye – held sway. First, they fed on plants and on small unicellular life-forms such as amoeba and spirogyra. Then bigger and bigger life-forms appeared, reaching their acme in giant dinosaurs. Viruses probably had a role in the disappearance of dinosaurs that failed to adapt to a changing globaleco-system.

Homo Sapiensas we know it began to walk on two legs around two million years ago. He began as a simple hunter-gatherer using simple stone flints. He later graduated into using simple iron tools for hunting, cultivation and self-defence. The first settled civilisations appeared some 5,000 years ago around Mesopotamia. Then we had the predominantly black civilisation of ancient Egypt and the great kingdoms of the Nile Valley – Kush, Punt and Meroe. Greece and Rome, China, the Indus Valley and the Incas and Aztecs of the Americas.

Archaeologists have found evidence of plagues that devastated entire communities in pre-historic times.

Around 430 BC the Greek historian Thucydides recounted the story of a plague that killed more than half the population of his native Athens: “people in good health were all of a sudden attacked by violent heats in the head, and redness and inflammation in the eyes, the inward parts, such as the throat or tongue, becoming bloody and emitting an unnatural and fetid breath”.

The Antonine Plague in ancient Rome inflicted a death toll of more than 5 million between 165-180 AD. The Bubonic Plague inflicted a catastrophic devastation on the Byzantine Empire during the reign of Justinian, around 527-565 AD.  The so-called “Black Death” wiped out 60 percent of the population of Europe during 1346-1353. The Spanish Fluof 1918-1920 killed more than 50 million across Europe and the world. More than 100,000 Nigerians were among the victims.

Our 21st century industrial civilisation has made giant strides in science, technology and medicine.

The discovery of penicillin and antibiotics has led to the manufacture of many effective vaccines that have helped in reducing deaths from epidemic diseases. The discovery of the molecular structure and mapping of the human DNA promises even greater advances in future. Through interface between the human brain and artificial intelligence (AI), it is technically possible to create a new species of human beings with extra-normal intelligence. The question is whether this New Man would be an angel or a beast.

We now live in theAnthropocene Age. Humanity has the capacity to alter the structure of our eco-system in a manner that spells real danger for biological life on our planet.

Some of us grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, with the ever-present danger of a thermonuclear holocaust. The Cold War is over. But it has been overtaken by what has been termed “the clash of civilisations”. Unless global collective solidarity becomes the norm, humanity may be headed for collective suicide. One historian has warned us that there has never been a weapon that human beings invented without using them at one stage or the other. If, in the unlikely of an all-out nuclear warby accident or design, the devastation could be so catastrophic as to force our earth to shift on its axis. That could make the earth either too hot or too cold for human habitation. God is the greatest geometer in the universe. He created the earth and set it at precisely the right angle within the solar system to ensure that our species, which are made in His image, would flourish and prosper.

It is possible to manufacture viruses in a laboratory. There has been mutual recrimination between Beijing and Washington on that score. Nothing can be ruled out.

In the 1970s American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger prepared a report detailing population control as a principle of American policy in Africa. Perhaps this partly explains the drive to impose genetically modified crops in Africa and the fanatical obsession with producing vaccines targeted at Africans. Two French medical researchers were recently debating on TV about testing new vaccines in Africa as they had done for HIV/AIDS. My gentle readers would recall that the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was convicted of killing more than 200 in Kano as guinea pigs for their experimental drugs.

The West have lost the moral ethics that was the backbone of Christian civilisation. The world powers see Africans as mere custodians of the continental mineral wealth that is their patrimony by right. Some of their scientists seriously believe that the ideal population of the planet should be no more than 1 billion. We are now 7 billion, heading for 10 billion by 2050. Africa, with the second largest continental landmass, comprises 1.3 billion people, about 18.57 percent of the world total. Africa’s GDP of US$2.58 trillion is a mere 3 percent of the global total of US$84.4 trillion. Ours constitutes a mere 4 percent of global trade. We consume barely 2 percent of the world’s natural resources. Africans have done more than most as trustees of our planet.

Melinda Gates was recently quoted as saying, “I see dead bodies in the streets of Africa”.  It says more about her than about Africa. We recently saw video clips of Chinese police hounding Africans out of their hotels and homes in China. It was heart-breaking seeing the picture of a homeless mother holding her infant in the harsh cold. The innate racism of the Chinese is coming to the fore at last. There are speculations that they are deliberately exposing Africans to the pandemic as part of some experimental trials.

Contrary to the impressions being given, I believe that China needs Africa more than we need them. All they have brought us are Shylock loans and dumping of substandard and even dangerous goods. Now is the time to revise our ties with Beijing. We must also be vigilant against the evil machinations of world powers that would opportunistically use the current crisis to undermine our continent.

According to the latest count, the victims of Covid-19 number some 2.923 million globally, with more than 200,000 dead. America and Europe top the list. By contrast, the bleak prognostications being made for Africa have not materialised.  We have 1,182 recorded cases in Nigeria, with 35 dead. I worry about the stories we are hearing from Kano. The numbers may well be more than what we are being officially told. Be that as it may, I am persuaded that God has been merciful to Africa.

This is also why I think that the lockdown that is currently being imposed in Nigeria, may be doing more harm than good. There is anecdotal evidence that the velocity of the spread actually increased with the lockdown as compared with before. It is evident that simply transposing an approach that has been deeply elsewhere may not be sustainable. Even in the case of China, the lockdown was largely restricted to Wuhan and surrounding cities.

When you look at our sprawling urban slums, forcing people to stay home is imprisoning a family of seven to huddle together in one ramshackle hovel. It is the easiest way to spread the plague. Hunger also remains a real threat, without the social transfers and palliatives that would save lives. And now that the rainy season is back, if farmers cannot go to their farms, we face the prospect of famine.

My humble suggestion is that we should do selective lockdown. All crowded markets and halls that draw large crowds must remain shut. Corner shops that sell food and basic necessities can open, but there must adequate social distancing. There should be a curfew from dusk to dawn while intercity travel should be controlled. Nobody should be allowed out without a prosper face mask. Government should commandeer tailors across the country to mass-produce face masks for all citizens. Testing equipment should be expanded and more volunteers recruited to help in this time of crisis.

Africa is blessed with untold reservoirs of traditional herbs and local health knowledge systems. We should tap into these. Shea butter oil, bitter cola, ginger mixed with lemon and garlic, and dogon yaro and lemon grass have all been mentioned as possible immune-boosters. We must mobilise all our resources to ensure that we win this war.

Above all, leadership is of the utmost importance. Now is the time for the real leaders to stand up and be counted. If in times past, we divided our people through a strategy of divide et impera, now is the time to bring them back together again; building on that reservoir of social capital and solidarity that will guarantee our resilience and survival. We will not only survive; we shall prevail!

 

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

 

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