File picture: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
File picture: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Medical experts slam claims that black people are immune to coronavirus

By Don Makatile Time of article published Mar 29, 2020

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If the pseudo-medical experts on social media are anything to go by, black Africans are immune to the Covid-19.

This opinion goes against the facts attested to by the deaths of Cameroonian jazz legend Manu Dibango and Zimbabwean media personality Zororo Makamba. Hollywood hunk Idris Elba has tested positive for Covid-19.

But the rumour mill continues to grind, nevertheless.

Typical of behaviour in moments of crisis, people are gullible and will not verify any information they get. Despite the fact that prominent figures in the country like ACDP leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe and Netball SA (NSA) president Cecilia Molokwane have gone public about their testing, the rumour-mongers still work feverishly to mislead.

Molokwane tested positive for Covid-19 after travelling overseas on NSA business.

Molokwane said in an NSA statement on Tuesday that she underwent testing after returning from the UK in early March.

She said she was tested at OR Tambo International Airport and was under quarantine and “taking all the necessary precautions to make sure I recover fully”.

Walter Sisulu University head of department in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Francis Leonard Mpotte Hyera, has dispelled myths around racial profiling regarding Covid-19, rumoured to be a “Eurocentric” disease.

According to Hyera, who was recently appointed the Eastern Cape’s Covid-19 public health medicine consultant and adviser, Africans have every reason to join those in panic over the disease.

“Many people allude to Covid-19 as a disease of white people, just as they had assumed back in the 1990s when African people thought HIV/Aids was a European disease - only to find themselves infected and dying of HIV,” said Hyera.

A veteran medic, Hyera advises officials involved with the province’s Emergency and Disaster Management Plan.

In a statement, Hyera said people panicked because there wasn’t enough community awareness about the cause of the disease and how to avoid contracting it. He said there was a lack of research into Covid-19, and of clear communication from local government on the disease.

“The biggest challenge is that we are underprepared for this outbreak in terms of awareness-creation in our communities, and they are not aware of a proper referral system once they have signs and symptoms,” he said.

In addition to government interventions, Hyera pleaded with businesses and organisations to play their role to mitigate the reach of the pandemic by doing the following: advise their employees on behaviour change, create awareness about the disease, encourage employees to disseminate information on it to their families and communities, and provide financial support for training people in disease-prevention and health-promotion, focusing on large gatherings, the transport industry business (taxi ranks), the funeral industry and cultural and religious events, among other interventions.

He added that students could also play a role by contributing to the body of research work done on the impact of Covid-19, through generating action-based research on the outbreak in terms of lessons learnt during it.

“It can be on socio-economic, medical, behavioural and social cultural factors towards this pandemic.”

Hyera has been in the medical fraternity since 1978, serving in different capacities, from clinical practitioner and strategic health planner to assisting internationally at UN level.

On the claimed immunity of Africans, Professor Alex Broadbent, director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and professor of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg, said: “I can confirm that there is absolutely no evidence to think that there is genetic immunity to Covid-19 among any group - Africans or otherwise.

“The disease appears to be less serious for young people, especially children, and only 3% of Africa’s population is over 65, where many of the serious, critical and fatal cases occur.

"This, combined with lack of testing and the early stages of the pandemic in the region, are generally accepted to be the main reasons for relatively few deaths in Africa to date. There is no evidence, however, that black Africans or any other racial or other grouping are immune.”

Professor Broadbent is the author of many works, including Philosophy of Medicine and Philosophy of Epidemiology, and is co-editor of a forthcoming volume on the philosophy of public health.

Another medical expert who poured cold water on the rumour is Landon Myer, head of the department of public health at the University of Cape Town.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that any particular group of people are immune from the Sars-CoV-2 virus that is causing the Covid-19 epidemic.

“This includes black Africans, and indeed, there are a large and growing number of infections observed in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as in individuals of African descent around the world, and the Covid-19 epidemic appears to be growing in African countries.”

Sunday Independent

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