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COVID-19 and natural selection in Africa

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The virus came and threatened humanity. Like others before it, it aimed to kill as many as it can from every society on the planet. Leaders in various countries rose to the occasion and tried to stop it. It got away with thousands on each continent and continues to do so, though not as quick and plenty as it wished. In the richest and most powerful country, America, it took not less than 40,000 lives, so far.

Its havoc amongst the least powerful in Africa can only be imagined. Gradually, the insidious vampire is smashing the shields of futile hope that we built on our genetics and hot atmosphere. It still deceives us with its slow penetration in the continent in comparison to its aggression elsewhere. But one thing did not change: its boundless thirst for our lives, in countless numbers. On this, it says, there will be no compromise.

The Ultimate Battle
As did others, our leaders, behaving naturally like parents over their kids, are locking us in our homes, away from the touch of the monster virus. It remains unshaken. I can wait, it told our guardians, until when the worst smokes them out to the street. That worst is hunger, which neither we the poor countries nor the rich ones can endure it for more than a few days.

Given a choice between the definite and blanket deaths of millions in the jaws of hunger and the probable death of fewer millions in the fold of the virus, individual humans would prefer to take up the latter in the open as they did many times before than succumb to the ravages of the former. The scenes of famines horrify us most. The virus knows this human calculation very well. So it patiently awaits hunger to play its role if the lockdowns continue.

Therefore, the battle between Africans and the virus must be fought ultimately, no matter how our leaders attempt to lock us away from it. The tragedy is that, unlike yellow fever, malaria, polio and other diseases that we have managed to control in the long run through therapies or vaccines, we have no such weapons yet against the new enemy in town. Every expert is predicting that it will take our enterprising laboratories eighteen months to acquire a vaccine against novel-corona. A cure, like the vaccine, will definitely come, sooner or later, but it remains unforeseen, so far.

Elsewhere, rich nations can put up a fight for some days with their numerous testing kits, hospital beds, ventilators, health personnel and drugs to treat symptoms. Technology will come to their aid. Lucky them.

Here in Africa where nature is still our only partner, with no ventilators or hospital bed space, with no protective equipment for the few personnel on ground, the virus is ready to take a sweep as we attempt to confront it bare-chest. The problem here is that we have failed to wean ourselves off nature. In the fight against any pandemic, the biggest mistake humans can do is to trust nature. On the surface, nature appears to be neutral; underground, it is an accomplice. Actually, it engineers the disease to fulfill its mission of natural selection against us – screening out the DNAs that fit the 20th Century the least.

In close alliance with nature against us is our culture of traditional society. We still herd around one another, like our cattle, at homes, markets, places of worship, etc. In the joy of his wedding and the agony of his funeral, the African disobeys the dictate of social distance with reflexive ease. With nature working with his enemy and culture instigating his stupidity, the scene is undeniably set for his defeat. Poor him.

The Scene
The atmosphere of that battle can better be imagined. Scores of the old and the vulnerable will succumb to the virus in every community, everyday, for a year or so. Their families will have nowhere to take them for treatment. There will be no treatment. Hospitals will be empty, deserted. Health personnel will flee for their lives in the absence of protective equipment. The virus will continue to cleanse communities of the weak and only the strong by age, health or wealth – to a lesser degree – can survive. This is natural selection at its best. That has been its modus throughout history. It has not spared any species before now. It cannot exempt us today.

Finally, with the advent of cure and prevention, or with the victor virus done with its selection campaign, humanity will move on and recoup, until another hundred years have passed before another beast of natural selection appears. It is exactly hundred years since nature sent Influenza on that mission. Our ancestors faced it. Of the 18.5 million Nigerians that fought it between 1918 and 1919, 500,000 were struck by its lethal sword while the rest survived its onslaught. Covid-19 too will fell many of us. But most will survive, nonetheless.

Lockdown, Solution or Stop-gap?
Now, if the ultimate battle is so inevitable, what then is the wisdom of the lockdown right now, especially if it will weaken us by exposing us to hunger that will reduce our combat capacity and body immunity, ruin our businesses and perish billions from our treasury? That may be exactly what Machiavelli warned his prince against, putting off an inevitable fight only to face the enemy later at a disadvantage. But we can buy time.

Lockdowns in Africa cannot go far and are actually meaningless beyond allowing us to sensitize more people, acquire more masks and PPE, prepare more hospitals and buy more equipment within a time frame of two weeks to one month. Beyond this, hunger will snatch us from the protective fold of our leaders and hand us over to the virus which will consume as many as possible before succumbing to a vaccine or a therapy. It is already forcing people out in Lagos, Onitsha and even in rich America.

Leaders in Africa must therefore know that lockdowns are limited stop-gaps. We must all accept that in the ensuing Darwinian struggle between COVID-19 and us, many of us must perish and leave the world to those amongst us that are more befitting – genetically and socially – to live on. Since we must face this awaiting demon, let our leaders allow us to fight it in strength, not in weakness. To this demand they must concede before we take the biological law into our own hands.

Epitaph
As the cloud of the brutal COVID battle gathers over the African sky, luck may generously present humanity with a remedy before the battle is settled. Otherwise, a writer shy of sixty cannot bank on the distant vaccine or rely on the unforeseen cure. He can only wish this epitaph to be placed on his grave should he be among the dead: “God! Forgive your fallen servant and prosper the living to continue propagating the human genome.”
Dr. Tilde is commissioner for education, Bauchi State.

 


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