Disease is latest risk to African viability
For over 20 years, the United Nations, along with its allies, have been forcing methods of population control on the so-called “developing nations” and, for the same two decades and more, the peoples of Africa have tried to resist, claiming that Africa’s problem is not one of ‘over’-population, but ‘under’-population.
This claim is supported by an article published (however strange it may seem) by the International Planned Parent Federation, IPPF, in the December, 1981, issue of its magazine, reporting world-wide on the effort to balance resources and population, to promote Planned Parenthood and to improve the human condition.” Apart from this one article, the rest of the magazine promoted Planned Parenthood and to improve the human condition.” Apart from this one article, the rest of the magazine promoted contraception and population control.
The article in People, “Tackling the Scourge of Infertility” in by Anne Retel-Lawrentin, Research Fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, and is based on over 20 years, intensive research on the causes of sterility and infertility in tropical Africa. She points out that the map of Africa shows “disconcerting varieties of population density, almost like a month-eaten coat.”
Along the edges of “the coat,” (the North African coast, the Gulf of Guinea, the Indian Ocean) there are a few areas of high population density, “but in the centre from north to south, the land is almost empty, even where it is fertile.” The researcher asks:
How can the soil be cultivated with only six inhabitants per square kilometre? How can roads be maintained, how can the economy and trading he properly developed? With the average density of only 17 per square kilometre, Africa seems under-populated and, above all, badly populated.”
The history of the African continent gives some answers as to the causes of under-population: the slave trade; the introduction of arms and gunpowder which led to, or contributed to, massacres; tribal wars; periodic famines; disease, especially sleeping sickness which was widespread from 1910 until it was controlled about 1940.
But these answers do not explain the high incidence of sterility, infertility, and intrauterine mortality. Doctors who have made a study of infertility in Africa are agreed that this problem has its origin in infection, and Anne Retel-Lawrentin’s 20 years of research shows that areas of infertility are always associated with sexually transmitted disease. Where records exist they show that “conjugal instability” and disease developed at the same time: “There are clear links among sterility, intrauterine mortality, genital infections, and venereal diseases … In some groups 50-60 per cent of the population is affected, with around 40 per cent of the women sterile, and 35-50 cases of intrauterine mortality per 100 pregnancies.”
By contrast, where social institutions support and ensure marital fidelity of women from the time of their engagement, the tribes (e.g. the Mossi of Upper Volta) are not affected by infertility. Their neighbors, the Bwa, with lower standards of sexual morality, are among the infertile.
The article on the “month-eaten coat” predates the appearance of AIDS, but time has shown that there too the same relationships exist between extra-marital sexual activity and disease leading to death. The article in People refers to the children who died before birth; with AIDS it is usually the 30-45 year old group who die. In both cases the population statistics are affected.
AIDS is just one of some 30 new diseases that have emerged during the last 20 years. It was first identified in the early 1980s, but because the HIV virus can be dormant for many years before developing into AIDS, “those infected had plenty of time to transmit death.” An article “Rampant AID’s virus buffets Uganda,” (Globe and Mail, February 7, 1996) shows the inter-relationships of sexual promiscuity, disease, depopulation, and the national economy of Uganda.
In the decade 1960-1970, Uganda was a state with a promising future. Its tropical climate is moderated by its situation over 3,000 feet above sea-level. Temperatures rarely rise above 85’F (29’C) or fall below 60’F (15’C), and average annual rainfall of 50 inches ensures that the country is usually green. With a trade balance in which its exports of coffee, cotton, tobacco, copper, sugar, and groundnuts were valued at four times the value of its imports, along with a good transportation system and hydro-electric power from Owen Falls, Uganda’s future seemed secure. However, in January 1971, General Idi Amin seized power and, a month later, dissolved Parliament. The excesses of his dictatorship left the country’s economy close to, it not already in ruins, and Uganda’s need for the support of the well-educated sector of the population had never been greater. Unfortunately, by this time, AIDS had emerged and was claiming its victims, especially amongst the wealthy and educated.
It is not admitted that, years before AIDS was known, the disease was being spread by wealthy businessmen and government officials to prostitutes, and hence by prostitutes to other clients. Today, the effects of the disease on the national economy are devastating. The men most qualified to rebuild Uganda after Idi Amin are dying or dead, “and indeed entire floors of civil servants have nearly disappeared.” In the state-owned Uganda Commercial Bank, of the 390 employees who have died since 1989, 240, i.e., 61.3 per cent-died of AIDS. “In one year AIDS killed three of the 11 assistant general managers.”
20 per cent affected
In the capital city of Kampala, 20 per cent of all adults are affected, and many companies require a blood test for HIV to screen out the infected in order to save on health care and costs of training. Some companies will not employ men under 35 because they do not want, or cannot afford, to waste money on training men only to have them die.
The article states: “Uganda was spending $500,000 a year on overseas courses for civil servants who returned only to die of AIDS.” The head of the Federation of Uganda Employers stated bluntly: “If someone is infected with HIV, are you going to train him? Are you going to promote him?”
Young Ugandan professionals entering the work force face many obstacles: there is difficulty in finding employment; even when employed they suffer from lack of further training and gaining experience. But it is interesting to note how AIDS has affected the less skilled. Deaths from AIDS have made it easy for many industries to retrench; “when lower-level workers die, we don’t replace them.”
Of an estimated population of 18 million, over 1.3 million Ugandans are known to be infected. In other words, 7.2 per cent of the people in Uganda, or almost three of every 40 persons have either HIV or full-blown AIDS. Alec Zaremba, who wrote the article, rightly points out, “There is plenty of death ahead.”
Life expectancy statistics are perhaps the most telling of the effects of AIDS or Uganda. Life expectancy around the world is rising rapidly, and in May 1996 the World Health Organization announced that global life expectancy is now 65, three years higher than in 1985. Statistics for other countries give a basis for comparison with Uganda; Canada 77.4; Jamaica 73.3; Mexico 71.4; Zimbabwe 61.2; India 58.6. (Source: the US Bureau of Census, Centre for International Research). By contrast, life expectancy in Uganda dropped from 52 in 1980 to 42 years in 1994, one of the lowest in the world.
On May 20, 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) opened its annual assembly in Geneva with a report on “the devastating spread of infectious diseases,” a report which applied to the African continent in common with the rest of the globe. The general-director of WHO, Hiroshi Nakajima, said: “We are standing on the brink of a global crisis in infectious diseases. The optimism of a relatively few years ago that many of these diseases could be brought under control has led to a fatal complacency. The complacency is now costing millions of lives.” (‘Disease crisis near, UN Agency warns,’ Globe and Mail, May 20 1996).
This threat comes from two groups of diseases. There are the 30 new diseases, such as AIDS, Ebola, and Hepatitis C Which have emerged during the last 20 years.” Secondly, there are the older diseases (such as malaria, tuberculosis, yellow fever, diphtheria, polio, cholera), which only a few years ago were considered to be near extinction or at least contained, but today are expanding their territory and showing new stains which are drug-resistant. New untreatable forms of malaria and tuberculosis are now regarded by experts as the two most deadly diseases in the world.
AIDS is one of the new diseases, and has had a devastating effect on Uganda. But AIDS is widely spread in Africa, especially south of the Sahara, disproportionately to the size of the population. Ebola, another killer disease, first surfaced in 1977, and re-emerged in 1995 to kill 245 people in Zaire. Early in 1996, cases of Ebola were reported in Gabon on Africa’s west coast. Gabon is a country, slightly larger than the former Yugoslavia, with a population of only half a million people and an infertile or sterile people. Truly this country is under populated.
Hepatitis C, another new killing disease which was discovered in 1989, causes liver cancer. It is causing concern in North American health departments.
Today, the greatest concern of the World Health Organization is the re-emergence of diseases (such as malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria) in new, drug-resistant strains which are untreatable. Following World War 2, there were great hopes that malaria would be eradicated. Today, it is estimated that 300 million people are infected every year, that more than two million die from the disease each year, and that 90 per cent of the cases are found in tropical Africa.
The vector, or carrier, of malaria is a parasite on mosquitoes. There are two main ways of eradicating malaria: either (a) getting rid of the mosquitoes, by destroying their habitat, namely wetlands, and/or killing the mosquitoes with insecticides; or, (b) killing the parasites. Over the years, mosquitoes have become resistant to insecticides. Ever, more potent insecticides have also become ineffective (while at the same time damaging the water supply). The years since World War 2 have also seen a growing resistance of the parasites themselves to drugs: quinine, for years the main standby, had become ineffective by the late 1950s; quinine’s synthetic from chloroquine and later drugs also became ineffective.
According to the latest reports of the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is the leading killer of all infectious diseases in the world today. “It kills more adults each year than AIDS, malaria and tropical diseases combined and it spreads through the air.” It is said that typically one person with the disease infects 15 to 18 others every year. The WHO report continues: “Globally a person is infected with tuberculosis every second.” IT estimates that in 10 years over 300 million will become infected, of whom 90 million will develop the disease and 30 million will die. When combined with HIV virus it is particularly deadly, and of the 14 million people world-wide infected with HIV, some 5.6 million have tuberculosis too. (In passing it is significant to note that, in the 1950s and 1960s, tuberculosis – which had been a leading killer in Canada – virtually disappeared, along with the special TB hospitals. Today, tuberculosis is a growing threat in the country.)
The historic causes of under population in Africa, named by Anne Retel-Laurentin are almost unchanged today. Tribal wars, massacres, sexually transmitted diseases leading to sterility and infertility, along with other infectious diseases, are still depopulating Africa. The difference is that, in 1996, there are new killing diseases, and the older diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis are now so drug-resistant as to be regarded as killers by the World Health Organization.
In the June, 1996 issue of Catholic Insight, Dr. David Dooley reviews a book by Dr. Margaret Ogala, a consultant paediatrician in Kenya. She is quoted as saying that sex education and an aggressive promotion of contraception, sterility and abortion, brought about the collapse of medical care in Kenya. There is a lack of cheap, affective medicine for malaria and puerperal fever but plenty of free condoms. “The result was foreseeable; not a decline in AIDS, but it’s spreading like wildfire.” Speaking of Kenya, Dr. Ogala has written, “You still hear talk of the need to curb the population, but I predict that we will be lucky to break even by the year 2000. AIDS is after all making a clean sweep of Africa south of the Sahara. All the population controllers have to do is give us condoms, sit back, and watch us die off like flies.”
A few years ago, a former student of mine who is now a physician in South Africa, said in conversation: “The African continent today, or at least Africa south of the Sahara, is a dying continent.” Will this prove prophetic?
At the time, I thought she was overly pessimistic; but today, I wonder.