I’m still reading “The Perfect Swarm” by Len Fisher. Although the author decries the pitfall of “groupthink”, and he admits that he is not immune to it, his blanket condemnation of “racism” shows that he may be more prone to it than he thinks.

Nevertheless, his descriptions of how two populations dealt with epidemics are interesting studies in contrast between Europe and black Africa. Regarding the Black Death, Fisher writes (pg. 124, 125):

A signal example of the way in which diseases spread is provided by the story of how the Black Death made it to the English village of Eyam in 1665. The network shortcut in this case was a link between the village tailor, George Viccars, and his London supplier, who sent Viccars a bundle of flea-infested cloth. The fleas were vectors for the Black Death, and Viccars was dead within a week.

In the meantime, though, he had acted as a hub to spread the disease to many others in the village. The village itself could have acted as a hub to spread the disease to surrounding villages were it not for the leadership of the rector and the minister, who persuaded the villagers to quarantine the entire village, allowing no one in or out. Around 540 of the village population of 800 died, but the surrounding villages were unaffected.

Shortly thereafter (also on pg. 125, 126), Fisher tells us of an incident in Africa:

Removing the hubs of sexually transmitted diseases is a much more difficult affair, impinging as it does on the balance of human rights between the infector and his or her partners/victims, and also on the difficulty of identifying the hubs. Education is certainly part of the answer, although it can sometimes go awry, as a colleague of my wife found out when she gave a talk on venereal disease to some children in an African school. She showed a film to demonstrate the chain of events that take place when one person gives the disease to another. At the end of the film one of the children asked, “If I give it to someone else, does that mean that I won’t then have it myself?”

It turned out that every child in the room thought the same thing: that you got rid of a sexually transmitted disease by passing it on. A friend who is an aid worker in Africa tells me that this is also a common misconception in the adult population, and that people who suffer from AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases often believe that they can get rid of the diseases by passing them on.

Reader of this blog are probably already aware of the ugly ramifications of that last paragraph. But I have not heard of any place on Earth, other than Africa, where such simplistic beliefs are common today. All primitive societies have blamed evil spirits, the gods or witchcraft for the spread of disease – but these primitive societies did not have the benefit of modern education, medicine and hygiene. Modern Africa has had these benefits for quite a few years now. At what point will the Western world collectively tell Africa that it is time for it to solve its own problems? Until it does so, perhaps it should be treated like the village of Eyam.

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