The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus in Africa has once again bring to fore the nagging issues of the continent’s readiness to truly be in charge of her destiny. No doubt, this is one event that has altered the calculus of the continent’s economics, environment and public health status. While I will not want to bore you will the details of my claims; I will condense my thoughts to the following:
1. Since 1976 there are five known strains of the virus-four virulent and one benign. All virulent strains are said to be found in Africa and the benign strain in China and the Philippines. It is on record that the U.S had its Ebola outbreak in 1989 in Virginia which was swiftly contained and the official story was that it was the benign Reston variant from monkeys imported from the Philippines.
Since then, the U.S Center for Disease Control and U.S Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases have taken lead in the study and management of a possible cataclysmic outbreak of the virus not only from natural means but even from the possibility of been weaponized by terrorist. I ask what national or regional strategies have been developed to contain the virus by our African leaders since it was first discovered almost four decades ago?
2. Many of us greeted with despair the news that the U.S has refused to allowed its experimental drugs into Africa and quick to condemn them for unjustly handling our case. Yet, we forget that by so doing we are painting the painfully true picture of the loss in confidence of African leaders to provide succor in the face of crises. By our action, we are not only willing to hang on our necks the shackles of slavery but we are also begging for the same chains on our feet as well.
Several bulletin and information about the virus is been disseminated by the Nigeria Medical Association and the Federal Ministry of Health but a cursory review on social media show that Nigerians mostly share or discuss the information updates by the U.S Embassy in Nigeria or any other foreign source. This trend is further evidence of how susceptible we have become and how easy our general psyche can be manipulated by western media. As a people, our collective leadership has failed to give us any reason to trust their claim, their demeanor and body language lacks the capacity to inspire confidence; hence, we repose our trust at the doorsteps of foreign powers.
As horrible as the situation seems, it may hold the glimmering chance to cause a reawakening of the giant within us all and demand not from western powers but from our continent’s leaders a leadership that truly reflects our potentials.
3. The Continent of Africa is not lacking minds brilliant enough to develop drugs or at the least manage the Ebola virus. The experimental drugs we crave for from the U.S is developed from monoclonal antibodies (a technique some of us have been taught even during our undergraduate programs). It is interesting to note that in 2010 Geisbert (a scientist based in the U.S) used gene silencing techniques to effectively treat the virus in infected monkeys; yet to this day no standard research facility anywhere in the West African sub-region to develop drugs capable of managing the virus. The question is “what premium has our leadership placed on our safety when they make annual budgets?”
4. While many conspiracy theories abound, it is pertinent to recall that Europe and America are quick to trace the source of most virulent strains of infectious organisms to the so-called third world countries- HIV and Ebola are two examples of such assertions; it is obvious therefore that our history and our story is not been told by us. If history is said to be “not what has happened but what is said to have happened” then whoever tells the story defines the people. I wonder how many more deadly diseases are still lurking in our African forests waiting to be discovered by foreign scientists. The continent’s defense strategy and doctrine should not only be against external threats of wars, religious terrorism and insurgencies but also to protect the sanctity of our pristine jungles against the possibility of been suitable laboratories for the development and testing of bio-warfare.
5. From the economic point of view, how many of us have thought of the spike in the stock value of Mapp, the Pharmaceutical Company that has the experimental drug (ZMapp) we all beg for. It is an open secret that Africa is home to the richest natural resources. Today, some Pharmaceutical companies are already making assertions of advanced drug research for the Ebola virus. One of such companies is Fujifilm Holding Corp in Japan that has advertised its Favipiravir as a possible candidate for the cure and treatment of Ebola. These claims will surely have a positive impact on the stock value of these companies. My question to the African leadership, do we have any chemical or drug company worthy to challenge these foreign companies in the area of research and related expertise?
In conclusion, the Ebola outbreak is a renewed call to urgently create a synergy of deft public health administration, environmental policy and a pragmatic political as well as military will that will invest in the lives and safety of the people in a continent most richly blessed.
Written by Peter Onah Thompson
A research student in the U.S.