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When humans beg for disease

By Victor C. Ariole
21 February 2022   |   3:55 am
According to the author quoted above, 1918 – 1919, flu killed about 50 million people but Lassa fever, Ebola and HIV-1 predicted to create greater havoc than flu...

PHOTO: Go Nakamura/Getty Images/AFP Go Nakamura / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

We know from the fossil records that no single species of large-bodied animal has ever been nearly so abundant as humans are now, let alone so effective at arrogating resources… hence increasingly viral exchanges… we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts… David Quammen in Spillover, 525.

According to the author quoted above, 1918 – 1919, flu killed about 50 million people but Lassa fever, Ebola and HIV-1 predicted to create greater havoc than flu, as COVID-19 also for Africa, remain milder; even when their likely reservoir host – chimps, primate, bat, rat, etc, are mostly African animals. Somehow he reasons that if not for unrelenting research activities to find out the most lethal viral infection that could eliminate those animals as a priori knowledge sees them as incubators of vicious bio-weapon, the virus could as well had remained in them without spreading in its state of “never being able to replicate” as it finds in the animals dead-end hosts.

America has known what it means by not carrying out research on Ebola as the 2004 experience that killed a Russian on Russian soil showed, and why Ebola should remain within its best ecological space toward remaining in its dead-end host in Africa. At worst, if provoked like some villagers feel that HIV or Ebola were provoked, it could be made to have a localised effect.

Dead-end host is not a “reservoir host” but it helps in caging the virus. Experience has shown that when viruses are allowed to stay within their dead-end hosts and not being provoked, they could remain peaceful and not virulent. Such experience comes also from how the Africans – Congo, Gabon, Central  African Republic – describe their own knowable process of either Ebola or what ought to be HIV – 2 before excessive research turned it to HIV – 1 and it became virulent. They call it the disease of red diarrhea, Opepe, or ezanga or even nganga healer disease and they know without too much worrying about research that it comes from chimps but not quite lethal when it remained as scientists called it HIV – 2. According to Quammen’s book – Spillover – French soldiers came to camp in a bush in central Africa in 1996 and they shot off their rifles which affected the ecology of chimps’ habitat as they started dying; hence releasing the viruses in them, either as host reservoir or dead-end host. Africans acknowledge the chimps as dead-end hosts having co-evolved with the virus.

However, like the globalism syndrome as satirised by Toni Morrison – Empire, internationalism, one world, universal – localisation is also setting in; that is, acknowledging that some diseases like Ebola is local to Africa; and perhaps in the name of demonising a place, looking for what is localisable to marginalise others; especially in the form of Malaria that kills more Africans than any other diseases given that the COVID-19 prediction of killing more Africans than other people failed in Africa. It is like ‘pathologising’ the mother continent using multi-media, deriding it with all the research results possible, in order “to naturalise the pathology” used in demonising it. So, malaria is about taking a relay from COVID-19.

Mosquitoes as known transmit infectious pathogens and parasites that cause diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya, West Nile fever, or Malaria – they are vectors and when they bite any sick living matter whether animal or plant or human, they remain infected by that pathogen related to the sick animal or plant or human. However, it seems that the most lethal is when they pick such pathogen from animal to humans, and great lethality is expected; hence P. Knowle – a type of infection could have been as a result of excessive research effort.

Personally, I have seen fine looking mosquitoes – bigger than the ones I see in Africa – in Barbados, France, Italy and Americas. They do not even have any biting effect and had wondered what they bite to remain as beautiful as I see them. The African ones look very vicious in outlook; tinier but bulging stomach and darker. So, it could as well be the most virulent, biting any sick animal or plant before getting to humans. Hence a great localisable bio-terror or biochemical weapon.

World Health Organisation (WHO) has been announcing that Africans should be mindful of tropical diseases as they could emerge very lethal just like COVID-19 was announced as the next “Big Outbreak” in February 2003 when it affected Hong Kong from Guangdong China and was about getting to Toronto – Canada before it was nipped in the bud; and unfortunately it re-appeared in 2019. Hong Kong was not as then a demonisable localisable space as both Britain and China were working hard to repair their past ignominy as Hong Kong represents.

Indeed, following WHO announcement, Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation seems to have turned their attention to malaria that is most lethal, known as “Plasmodium knowlesi”, notwithstanding other variants as “Plasmodium Vivax”, Plasimodium Felaparum or less fatal ones “P.ovale” and “P.Malariae”. The former has, for sure, what to fear about its zoonotic dimension – like being transmitted by mosquitoes that infect animals also. Experts see what that Foundation intends to do as “admirable goal, a generously imaginative dream” but they wonder how it could work if it fails to follow the pattern that eliminated yellow fever in 1901 – the first viral infection recognised in humans. Walter Reed and his team of microbiologists saw yellow fever as transmitted by mosquitoes and worked on killing-off all those mosquitoes in Cuba.

So, how are Africans going to deal with their own type of yellow fever that has turned malaria?

Quammen in Spillover expects scientists not just to unearth virus so as to make money, with the most lethal one they could discover, just as the scientist who won Nobel Laureate in 1902 – Roland Ross, as he invented what cured a malaria-infected white person out of what was later discovered as unorthodox process.

So, in this era of globalism that could exclude or annihilate those that could be seen as nuisance to the “Empire-minded” group in what Tonni Morrison refers in his Mouth Full of Blood as: world governance watching an almost biblical flood destroy a city/a continent because its people were surplus, or unwanted, in the march to “defined globalism”. Bioweapon or bioterror could do it and any outbreak greater than the 1918 – 1919 flu or Black Death episode could do it. It must be avoided by restraining excessive virus provocative and unleashing research efforts. Research efforts are good as that is why universities exist but they should be mindful of the African knowable processes, that had in the past acknowledged some viruses they have already co-evolved with and have met already their dead-end hosts in the African bio-diversity ecology.

Ariole is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos.