Our memories at times are tempered by the circumstances of the day, with the anxiety to forget bad experiences. Malaria, Leptospirosis and even HIV are pushed aside as if they were fashion trends that have fulfilled their time and are now gone. syphilis (leak) is no longer discussed (though this is a dangerous bacteria that invades the body, deceiving its victim that its healed, while spreading through the body, causing other diseases including yaws, and it can also be transferred secondarily).
Another disease, ‘Pinta’, a South American infection that disfigures the skin with de-pigmentation lesions that grows into ulcers is related to the yaws and Syphilis bacteria and is spread by non-sexual transmission has been wrongly attributed to leprosy. Syphilis is treatable but it’s best to protect one’s self, but the origins of this infection have long been a subject of dispute as to whether it began in the old world and was brought into the new world. It is also in verse described as a curse from the Greek God Apollo in a conflict with a defiant shepherd named Syphilus.
It has always been an infection of shame and terror, even with modern workable remedies, it must not be taken casually. We now have children born with the effects of the Zika virus, to which enough attention was not been given by the then medical administration, as to the swiftness that insect-borne infections travel with. Zika was packaged as being in Brazil and was ‘not a worry’ to the Guyanese public.
Zika is a frightening mosquito transferred virus because it can affect the foetus of a pregnant woman, which is physically visible when the child is born. This is transferred by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that feeds mostly on human blood. Then there was the 2014 heated debate between Dr George Norton and then Minister of Health Dr Bheri Ramsaran over the issue of Chikungunya, a virus discovered in Tanzania that causes severe joint pain and takes months for victims to recover.
Its transporter is the aggressive adoptable Mosquito species ‘Aedes albopictus’ that Virologists claim usually colonises other mosquito populations. Dr Bheri Ramsaran argued that the virus was a Berbice ‘ting’ and that to focus on Georgetown would frighten off tourists and investor. This was not a sensible or rational argument from a Minister of Health, who should have known that to mosquitoes, rats, bats, and viruses, Georgetown is a step away from Berbice.
There is a proven global temerity with insect and rodent-carrying infections in our modern world of easy travel, especially with a virus first identified in Africa, that had hitched a ride from Africa to South America. Dr Norton’s tactical advice was ignored on a flimsy political posture, and many in Georgetown and across Guyana paid the price. Diseases are not the toys of political or commercial fencing bouts. People die and suffer as a result, as in the case of Zika for a lifetime.
How do you sensitise people to infections and diseases? These are not trends of fashion that are accompanied by popular music, these are items in the human world that people want to survive through and forget. The human mind is quick to hide severe ailments by making up’reasons not to be too cautious with this or that. I recall shopping at Bourda Market over 25 years ago and enquiring about a youngster who used to be around, with my late friend ‘Bone Dry’. I was surprisingly informed that he had passed away. Apparently, he developed jaundice and was told to use ‘bitters’. The bitters killed him.
I anxiously asked his friends and the stallholders in the vicinity he was active in about this folly, inquiring who told him to use bitters? Some remained silent, looking at me questioningly, while those vocal, insisted that bitters were the right thing, even invoking imaginary references. It’s difficult to inform through a school system all the necessary information, which, if commonly understood could have saved that young man’s life.
When the AIDS crisis hit Guyana people took refuge in the blame game, that it was a ‘Gay Thing’ ARTISTS IN DIRECT SUPPORT created by an active group of theatre professionals arrested the myths and conveyed a better perspective of HIV-AIDS. I had also with the support of UNICEF and GAHEF produced an illustrated magazine (comic book) on the subject, with some frightening interviews with ‘Iceman’ and a lady who picked up young men from around the cinemas. But though the UNICEF operative was also eager to support such a book on street drugs, the government in 1999, was not interested in that area.
In one of the National Geographic magazines I have used references from over the last few weeks – July 2007-pg 64, carried a reference of how in Tanzania actors perform educational dramas about defence and protection against Malaria. Tanzania is Africa’s largest treated bed-net producers (as of 2007) and is also a nation tortured by Malaria during its rainy season from the data before us on the ‘How’s’ concerning mass infections.
Sometimes we don’t need to rediscover the wheel, every child was warned especially in rural areas, not to pick up fruit fallen during the night, that might have just a little bite mark, visiting relatives from the city were intensely guarded against this. Night visiting birds, monkeys and bats like fruits too and you can possibly catch something no one knows how to deal with, biting big over their little bite mark, on a juicy looking mango.
The essential priority is that this conversation needs to expand in respect to all as is necessary to be understood, and Guyana has a real opportunity with the right management to create a green economy to apply what the Wildlife Conservation Society indicates “it’s not about wildlife health or about human health or about livestock health, there’s really just one health-the health and balance of ecosystems throughout the planet.”
In the face of COVID-19 a new approach to Biology and its disciplines have to be with tact transferred through functional means, simplified, into the public awareness in relation to the world we must now realise that we live in and must knowledgeably exist in.