Sat | Jun 24, 2017

Chikunbola: The new Black Plague

Published:Sunday | October 5, 2014 | 10:00 AM
Sharon Ford, a Seaview Gardens resident, tries to comfort her granddaughter, Jayda Williams, who missed school recently because of chikungunya. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer

Orville Taylor, Columnist

Based on the way the Jamaican Government seemed to have underestimated the onslaught of the chikungunya epidemic and the unimpressive way the Americans have been handling both the Ebola pandemic and the security of President Barack Obama, I am now myself showing signs of diarrhoea.

However, mine is a side effect of nervousness and 'fretration' and not because of a virus. For me, this resembles a macabre episode of Transformers or Resident Alien, where there's more than meets the eye and a sinister unknown virus horribly afflicts its victims, while the majority of the population is playing guessing games.

We know that there is a chikungunya pandemic in the making, with close to 800,000 Caribbean residents being affected, the bulk of them being in Hispaniola. Maybe no one noticed it, but the majority of persons affected are black. Haiti is more than 90 per cent of African descent, and Dominicans, despite their self-denial, are at least 80 per cent black or 'mixed', like Obama. Could it be targeting us based on our melanin?

What is particularly scary here in Jamaica is that doctors have been treating patients who present with the symptoms of chikungunya but who test negative. Worse, it has the same vector as dengue fever, the pesky Aedes aegypti mosquito. Yet, some with symptoms of both also test negative. This thus brings into question the efficacy of the testing methods, or worse, that there is a third microbe that has its own aircraft and doesn't need to book a flight on the white-striped 'maskita' and is clearly unaffected by hot callaloo.

Common symptoms of chikungunya are headache, fever, joint pains, limb swelling, loss of appetite, vomiting, increased sensitivity to pain, and possibly a rash. Dengue has similar manifestations, including the rash. However, another type of dengue, the haemorrhagic one, leads to mild bleeding, and that's dangerous. Bleeding can increase from slight trickles from the nose and gums and become severe, leading to shock and death.

Although it is spread across the Tropics and South East Asia, this last type of dengue has a higher mortality rate, especially among Africans - hmmm - who have a common genetic abnormality called glucose 6 phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.

NEW DIRTY 4-LETTER WORD

Ebola, the new dirty four-letter word that even affects my ability to count, was first discovered in 1976 and named after the Ebola River in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Its symptoms include headache, vomiting, fever, and bleeding, both internal and external. It resurged in the early 1990s in the same country, infecting 315 and killing 254 persons.

In 2000, another outbreak in Uganda killed 224 out of 425 individuals. Again in 2003 in the Republic of Congo - not Zaire -a 90 per cent mortality rate took home 128 out of 143 people.

In its current manifestation, 3,091 of the 6,574 Ebola victims have died. All have been black West Africans, like most of us.

Interestingly, it is not a respecter of social status, but it seems to be race-sensitive. It took the life of Sierra Leone's chief medical hero in the anti-Ebola war, but his American counterparts flew to America and were miraculously saved by a hitherto-unknown 'experimental' drug. While I doubt the viral Internet story alleging that the antiviral only works on Caucasians, I am still dumbfounded that it was not tried on the Sierra Leonean as well.

There is just too much correlation between terminal pandemics and skin colour. Apart from malaria killing more than 600,000 Africans in 2012, where most deaths were, the top 35 countries with the highest HIV prevalence are black majority populations. In the United States, black people account for 44 per cent of all cases, although they are just 13 per cent of the population. And it is not a matter of economics. The Bahamas is ranked 24th in prevalence, yet it has the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US$32,000, in the same company as the United Kingdom at US$37,000, and France at US$35,000 and better than Spain, whose GDP is US$30,000 per annum.

Prostate cancer, chronic heart and vascular diseases and diabetes affect us disproportionately, compared to whites. This is just coincidental. Why are so many of the terminal epidemics heavily concentrated among black populations?

BIOLOGICAL WARFARE

America's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognised the potential for Ebola in biological warfare. Although the Russian agency Biopreparat concluded that it was too fragile in open air to be effective, it is deadly when passed on by any type of body fluid. If the Ebola virus is one that selectively attacks black people, could it be deliberately used to eliminate us?

Obama would be a prime target because the biggest secret about the American Secret Service is that it has never sacrificed any of its members in saving the president, although their legends speak of doing so. Moreover, four of the 44 presidents have been assassinated, two more suspected of being murdered, and more than 20 have had unsuccessful attempts. Had Andrew Jackson been less skilful and not beaten up his attacker, the number assassinated would have been five.

True, we in Jamaica are worried that we are underprepared for the advent of Ebola with our already-overburdened health-care system. But patriotic Americans must be petrified because an American citizen breached the warning systems and took it to Texas, potentially affecting at least 80 persons. Furthermore, another had made mockery of White House security and reached into the hallways.

Another, a convicted felon, somehow not screened and eliminated as a security contractor, rubbed shoulders with the Prez, in an elevator, with an armed pistol. It would take nothing for someone then to put a little nose snot or other innocuous bodily secretion and kill off the black side of the president.

Nevertheless, for all the speculation, if there is any time to be cautious and finicky about our health and cleanliness, it is now. I will be the scornful dog that refuses to eat the 'dutty puddn'.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.