By Douglas Anele
The year 2020 in the Gregorian calendar almost universally used for reckoning the passage of time at the macroscopic level is remarkable for several reasons. To begin with, it ushered in the coronavirus infection or covid-19 pandemic that has directly or indirectly affected almost every human being right now and brought the world economy to its knees which, according to the latest estimate by economists and financial experts, amounts to a loss of twenty trillion dollars, and counting.
Now, despite lame protestations and attempted cover-up by China, covid-19 is widely believed with good reason to have originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan and eventually spread across the world with increasing rapidity. When it began in early 2020 medical experts and the World Health Organisation (WHO) did not have adequate knowledge about the pathogen, its aetiology and mechanics of transmission, a situation that made it virtually impossible to ascertain effective preventive and therapeutic measures against the disease caused by the virus.
Consequently, the response to covid-19 at the beginning by WHO and governments across the globe was slow, uncoordinated, and largely driven by trial and error. By the time the world woke up to the reality that humanity is facing a potential health crisis of the same proportion brought about by the Spanish flu of 1918 with its devastating consequences in terms of deaths and economic devastation, various countries in all the continents had already started reporting fatalities and increasing hospitalisation as a result of covid-19 infection.
With increasing knowledge about the virus, its mutability, transmissibility and damaging effects on the human body, health experts recommend various measures notable amongst which are wearing of face mask to cover the nose and mouth, physical distancing, regular washing and sanitisation of hands, as well as dietary and medicinal supplements that could help reduce both the spread of the virus and its virulence in the body.
Lockdowns or restrictions of varied degrees of strictness and spread were implemented by different countries with varying levels of success in reducing covid-19 infections. Presently, China is among the very few countries that appear to have successfully contained the spread of the virus; but there is alarming increase in deaths and infections in Brazil, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, the United States of America and several countries in Europe.
One of the positive news regarding the current pandemic is that scientists have used the latest technologies in vaccine production to manufacture in record time vaccines that appear to have a high degree of efficacy. The leading ones include mRNA1273 by Moderna, a biotech company in the USA; ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 developed by researchers at Oxford University and AstraZeneca; CoronaVac manufactured by Sinovac, a Chinese biotech firm; and the PfizerBiontech vaccine which, like Moderna’s, uses messenger RNA to trigger the immune system to recognise and neutralise coronavirus.
It is really disappointing to note that in the race for an effective vaccine against covid-19 infection or medicine against the disease Africa is not on the radar. This is not surprising anyway knowing full well that in the very important issue of scientific and technological development African countries have been at the lowest rung of the ladder for a long time due to several internal and external factors which are beyond the scope of this analysis.
But even more disheartening is that the covid-19 medicine manufactured in Madagascar failed to gain wide acceptance as a reliable cure for the disease due to obscure reasons. Is the medicine ineffective or is there an attempt to stifle it by the big biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies in China and the West? How many African countries have requested the medicine and tested it?
Why is the Madagascan government not encouraging other Africa countries to buy the medicine if it is efficacious? Here in Nigeria, the government seems to be suffering from Izuogu Syndrome, that is, the ignoble neglect or plain refusal to encourage a local inventor or innovator for ethnic, political or religious reasons.
Remember, late Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu was the first African to build a locally made car, Z 6000, which would have launched Nigeria into the elite group of vehicle manufacturing countries. But the opportunity was wasted scandalously because the Abacha government failed to honour its promise of financial support for the project until eventually armed robbers vandalised Izuogu’s factory at Naze and carted away everything, including the engineering design notes and drawings which took him and his team over a decade to develop.
Sometime ago two Professors, Maurice Iwu and Maduike Ezeibe, separately announced that they have developed therapies that can cure coronavirus disease. As at the time of writing, there is no serious attempt either by the federal or any state government to thoroughly investigate their claims.
The two scientists are experienced researchers in their areas of specialisation and understand not only the established protocols or standards expected by their peers before announcing any discovery but also the negative repercussions of falsification, which indicates they must have thoroughly checked their research processes and procedures first before making their findings public.
In my opinion, Profs. Iwu and Ezeibe deserve total support from government because if their claims are corroborated their inventions would save lives and put Nigeria on the map of global innovators in the field of medicine. On the other hand, if they are wrong the scientific community would benefit epistemologically by establishing that the therapies do not work, thereby preventing others from using the same technique.
As the Austrian-born British philosopher of science, Karl Popper, argued in his major work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, falsification of claims in science is not necessarily a bad thing. It would be a horrible waste of human capital and a stigma for the country starved of positive global recognition if the authorities, by acts of omission or commission, allow what happened to Izuogu’s invention over twenty-three years ago to recur in this situation.
The corona pandemic has brought to sharp focus the fact that there is only one human race and that the best way to handle global problems is by acting co-operatively such that no one is left behind. If indeed the virus originated from a wild life market, then it is a stark reminder that humans cannot continuously encroach into the natural environment with impunity without adverse consequences.
Many pathogens in their natural habitats undisturbed by human activity are well-adapted. However, due to accelerating exploitation of nature, the impressive delicate balance in the biotic ecology which emerged after billions of years of evolution is being steadily disrupted by our ever-expanding colonisation of nature.
Environmental philosophers have drawn attention to the often irreversible damaging effects of acting as if the archaic biblical injunction, “go ye into the earth and multiply and subdue it” were true. That injunction might have made sense when few human beings lived on the planet but not now when the world population has surpassed seven billion.
It is pathetic that in spite of the incredible knowledge available since the last pandemic more than a century ago, many so-called educated people worldwide believe in conspiracy theories regarding the covid-19 pandemic. Bill Gates, one of the greatest philanthropists who have invested a lot of money and resources in the alleviation of poverty and diseases especially in poor countries, has been unfairly accused of using Covid-19 and vaccine for its inoculations an excuse to implement a sinister global depopulation agenda targeted especially against Africans.
Indeed, the bizarre misinformation and disinformation circulating in the social media include the claim that there is a covert attempt to implant microchips analogous to the infamous biblical number 666 in the Book of Revelation as a preparation for the coming of the Anti-Christ!
It must be admitted that throughout history individuals in positions of power and influence but suffering from cognitive and emotional disturbance or motivated by excessive greed and megalomania have done unspeakable evil. Perhaps, the “Wuhan virus” might be the result of an experiment in biological warfare that went awry or was deliberately released for some ulterior motive by some evil leaders.
Nevertheless, the converging consensus amongst experts in different countries is that covid-19 virus originated from bats or pangolins and has been spread mostly through human to human contact. Accordingly, although one cannot completely rule out the possibility of sinister origin regarding covid-19, it is more rational to accept tentatively the views of majority of internationally recognised virologists and infectious disease experts rather than swallow completely outlandish conspiracy theories peddled by fringe evangelical religious leaders, bohemian scientists and charlatans pretentiously claiming to have prophetic vision or to know what they do not know.
As a follow up, it is absolutely necessary to abide by simple but sometimes inconvenient recommendations such as wearing a mouth and nose covering especially when outdoors in the midst of people, regular hand-washing and sanitising, and physical distancing. Of course, a balanced diet and regular exercises are known immune boosters that can help one fight off the virus.
Some people claim that the low rate of covid-19 infections and mortality especially in sub-Saharan Africa contrary to the predictions of Bill Gates and others is due to God fighting for his people. Needless to say, the morbid religious mentality of Africans generally, their tendency to explain every phenomenon or occurrence from the religious perspective irrespective of their academic qualifications and socio-economic standing, is the greatest obstacle militating against genuine home-grown sustainable development in the continent.
TO BE CONTINUED.