Heart of Arts

Misunderstanding Africa in the Global World of Health

Toyin Falola

The initiative for this idea came from the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies (IADS), University of Lagos, where Professor Wellington Oyibo and his colleagues decided to move from intellectual conversations to practice. A Medical Parasitologist and activist, Professor Oyibo is opposed to statements coming out of the World Health Organization regarding the use of lockdowns to solve serious health issues. To Oyibo, the Pandemic Treaty by WHO regarding Africa is floored. This became the theme of the conversation on World Health Day organized by IADS on April 5, 2024, to which I was invited to Keynote.

Africa is frequently misrepresented and misunderstood in the context of global health issues. Misconceptions persist, obscuring Africa’s tremendous inclusion, adaptability, and important achievements in the worldwide healthcare landscape. It is essential to dispel these myths and appreciate Africa’s significant contribution in creating international health policies and practices. Africa’s health successes, despite obstacles such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and maternal mortality, are frequently underestimated because of disease and economic stigma. Positive advances have occurred in reducing child mortality, increasing immunization coverage, and increasing basic medical access.

Biological makeup, environmental interaction, genetics, and other factors all have an impact on individuals’ and communities’ health. Understanding Africans’ health state necessitates an appreciation for the environment, historical detail, and cultural beliefs, as each community has unique characteristics. Except in circumstances involving international interest or world power bias, African health and medical status have received little attention. The conquest of Africa resulted in the deaths of many white men, showing the global immunological variation and diverse biological and metabolic responses to health issues.

During colonization, attempts were made to make Africa bearable for whites, with an emphasis on diseases in rural regions. If the interests were strong, remedies to common diseases were explored. The propensity of ignoring health difficulties in modern society persists, sometimes disregarded due to the complexities and futility of global health challenges.

International communities have responded to health crises in Africa, such as the Ebola outbreaks in 2013 and 2014, but their efforts have been reactionary. The WHO’s proactive action in addressing Ebola as a global issue only began in August 2014, when the Health Regulations Emergency Committee (HREC) suggested evaluating the virus in accordance with International Health Regulations. These recommendations led to the Director General declaring Ebola as a worldwide threat. One can wonder if the mere outbreak in Africa should not have been considered a worldwide threat until it became clear that it could spread to other regions. The WHO’s tardy responses tell volumes about the world’s dismissive attitude toward African health challenges and unique characteristics. As a result, the UN’s first proper and definitive reaction came in late September 2014, months after the outbreak began in Africa.

Foreign countries have a history of promptly aiding their residents in Africa, particularly during health crises and outbreaks. One cannot refute the efforts made to combat many of Africa’s tropical diseases, yet they are frequently viewed as problems that the continent or individual governments should address by themselves. A global approach to African health status only reinforces the ignorance of the situation. African health issues often go unnoticed until they become more serious. The point is that failing to give African-specific health challenges adequate attention precludes the global community from acquiring accurate perspectives on their occurrence and rankings in the preferences of diseases to be tackled. As a result, without comprehending the complexities of African health idiosyncrasies, it would be difficult to give them proper consideration in global health plans and planning.

In addition, the global community needs to recognize that global health hazards may not necessarily be the most pressing issue in Africa. However, the influence of powerful institutions and impacted countries tends to impose some of these plans on Africa without considering African circumstances or considering how such may affect African developmental initiatives. The COVID-19 epidemic posed a global threat, with Africans in the diaspora dreading death. Europe, the Americas, and Asia suffered the most, with hundreds dying every day. Aids and interventions were implemented to keep the negative forecasts from getting worse than expected.

The epidemic killed thousands of people in Africa, but it was less widespread than other tropical diseases. Africans escaped COVID-19 because of their young populations and environmental variables, which allowed their immune systems to fight the virus more effectively and rendered them less vulnerable to foreign countries. Societies are heavily influenced by their surroundings. Unfortunately, in a subsequent examination of health plans and conversations around the world, this truth has not been effectively placed in context. Unfortunately, the proposed global measures for the Pandemic were extended to Africa without specific consideration for the people and their environments.

The Zero proposal for renegotiating new global security plans could be seen positively. Having lived in the United States during the Pandemic’s peak and witnessed the devastating impact on the population, one must agree that the globe must bond together to ensure that similar disasters and epidemics do not occur again. As a result, the Zero Draft and reconsideration of the clauses in the International Health Regulations (IHR) are the appropriate steps. Even if they do not directly address the special requirements of the African community, these are actions that cannot be ignored, and the call to action is as urgent as possible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major worldwide health problem, with approximately one kid under the age of five dying every minute in Africa. Despite being treatable and mostly avoidable, the epidemic has resulted in a lack of awareness of other African diseases, with a major proportion of deaths occurring in African communities. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a disturbance in the focus on malaria cures and infections. This means that, like other frequent diseases in Africa, it is overshadowed by the global preference for a presumed global disease. Cholera, Typhoid, Malaria, Tuberculosis, and other major diseases in Africa are not given adequate attention, and as a result, they spread to other areas of the world.

It is perplexing to see measures imposed on Africans for global diseases that are not as deadly as tropical diseases, allowing local diseases to flourish. Announcing lockdowns in parts of Africa, taking measures without regard for the volatile nature of the African economy, disregard for environmental peculiarities, inconsiderate measures that affect rural dwellers, and other factors that global minds are not averted to only demonstrate that Africa is not taken as seriously as we believe. The global health scheme will be most convinced to focus on Africa, where health challenges are more likely to influence the worldwide population. It is important to consider Africa’s unique characteristics when implementing current or future initiatives. Thinking that Africa’s requirements are perfectly aligned with global needs is not only misguided but also detrimental to the continent’s health. As a result, several of these worldwide strategies are unnecessary for African circumstances.

Creating a lockdown in Africa for a sickness that many Africans are naturally resistant to is unnecessary and could worsen the situation. It will be an attempt to indirectly damage Africa and force it to rely on the charity of foreign powers to survive. An incident that is comparable to colonialism. Amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) and other treaties imposing lockdowns, border closures, and other limitations on Africans due to their low-income status will harm African societies even more. The African economies are still reeling from the tremendous losses and decades that followed. The question of whether Africa is low-income or not is just part of the argument. Nonetheless, if any lockdown measures are implemented, they will have little opportunity to become high-income or maintain satisfactory economic positions.

To address the misunderstandings and create a more honest picture of Africa in terms of health worldwide, numerous vital initiatives, including though not restricted to the following, are required: Promoting various narratives, investing in local capacity, cultivating equitable relationships, and lobbying for policy reform.

Let me cumulate our concerns on behalf of all our people. African perspectives are often overlooked while addressing local and global concerns. Many of these initiatives are implemented without regard for Africa’s role as a solution to global challenges. Africa has a long history of herbal potency, and the only thing keeping them from finding long-term or local treatments is distractions from their research. The health criteria of Africa must be understood, and local remedies must be considered. These two suggested regulations do not prioritize Africa as the primary focus. It demonstrates either a global contempt for African uniqueness or a misunderstanding of them.

As a result, I urge the appropriate international authorities and influencers to evaluate the continent’s unique characteristics, investigate internal remedies, and treat African health emergencies as true emergencies. I hope that IADS and its leadership will continue to be our leading voice, and the passion of Dr. Akin-Otiko, the scholar-priest in his Obatala’s permanent whiteness, will continue to invoke the water spirits of the lagoon to mix with the commands of Saint Raphael the Archangel and the intercessions of Saint Camillus de Lellis. Ase!

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