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Disposable Africa: religious bigotry again trumps sound medical practice

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Religious bigotry is free to rise at will in any country. No, I was not thinking about US administration policy blocking AIDS reduction efforts by restricting programs involving condom distribution and substituting in their place pseudo-psychological abstinence programs that do not meet the realities on the ground. This time it is the Muslim north of Nigeria in the state of Kano that halted polio vaccination of Children in August 2003 as "religious leaders there claimed that the vaccine made girls infertile."

As polio's high transmission period is soon to begin with the rainy season (when sewage backs up), World Health Organization and others, instead of expecting to soon celebrate the removal of the second major disease from the planet, the first being smallpox, are bracing for "the largest polio epidemic in recent years," apparently with all new cases genetically traced back to Nigeria:

"Immunization rates generally need to be more than 80 percent to break the person-to-person chain of virus transmission. They were briefly that high several years ago in the African countries that were polio-free until the recent outbreak. In some cases, however, the rates have now dropped to 50 percent or lower."

The level of reported paralysis vastly understates the epidemic tipping point of infection rate as most victims experience diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms, with only 1 in 200 becoming paralyzed. The Kano decision now requires a heretofore completely unnecessary effort to "immunize 74 million children in 22 African countries... [over an] area extending from Mauritania in the north to Congo in the south, and from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east."

As much of the immunization effort falls on volunteer efforts, resources and money that would have been spent on Africa's many other pressing problems must now be diverted back to polio. I am, in turn, inspired and appalled at the ability of any religion to incite its adherents to a course of action that can be so destructive in the medium and long term. The failure to look at the secondary effects of one's actions are not limited to secular politicians.

I submit that an examination of what the French refer to l'Afrique utile -- usable or useful Africa, and l'Afrique inutile -- useless, unprofitable or disposable Africa, can shed light on the ability of religion, among other characteristics, to so disproportionately hijack sound governance. In 2001, I wrote:

"It is a mistake to apply Western assumptions about the nature of state security in much of Africa because the concerns for state survival are subordinated to the personal security and well being of the incumbent leadership. Rulers create a "shadow state," a parallel political authority, where personal ties and controls replace failing institutions. Furthermore, the court system and legal apparatus are appropriated to serve these requirements. The state ceases to be the provider of physical or social security.

These shadow power networks, underpinned by political and economic privilege, are potent enough to frustrate interventions by the international financial and donor community designed to undermine this informal sector and strengthen the structures of the nation-state. This is the environment in which military activities and interventions of state, regional and private security forces must be considered.

Current diplomatic and security arrangements are state-centered and predicated upon states being the primary actors in international affairs. This is just not so in Africa, where regional alliances are formed between private actors or leaders who expropriate the framework of the state to their own ends and in their own private interest. In such environments, the United Nations (UN) and Western states find themselves on soft ground, having to deal with individuals both as the source of power and wealth, and as the origin of ambiguous signals in a rapidly changing environment." [client African commodity analysis report]

When religion becomes one of those ends, the wheels of good governance can come off for that state and many of its neighbors. Only Useful Africa gets linked to the global economy. Returning to my unpublished report:

"Those areas regarded as useful or believed to contain exploitable resources are provided with a modicum of protection, are linked to external protectors and their support institutions, and thereby granted a measure of administration and security. Those without such interests are left to their own devices. Only the "useful bits" are, in an economic sense, re-colonized by external players."

Polio Eradication Faces Setback in Africa

By David Brown

Washington Post

June 23, 2004

 

Spread of Polio in Africa Makes UN Fear a Major Epidemic
World Bank Development News
23 June, 2004

U.N. Officials Fear Major Polio Epidemic in Africa
By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN
New York Times
June 23, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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