COVID-19: Gobbling Up Funding for Fatal Epidemics Such as Malaria, TB and AIDS

Coronavirus or Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV?

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

Why is a Low Mortality Illness Like COVID-19 Crowding out Treatment for the World’s Most Dangerous Illnesses?

This documentary reports on urgent concerns that COVID 19 “pandemic” management is crowding out prevention, diagnosis and treatment for far more serious illnesses, such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.

Epidemiologists assert that low cost interventions such as bednets and “residual spraying” (presumably with insecticides?) are extremely effective in preventing malaria in African and Asian countries that experience malaria epidemics during the rainy season. Where the disease is diagnosed early, artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has an extremely high response rate. Unfortunately due to diversion of Red Cross and other international funding to COVID management,  Africa’s anti-malaria programs have suffered significantly. India, however, is still making good progress in reducing disease prevalence.

Diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis has been similarly affected in the developing world, where, at present approximately 25% of patients diagnosed with HIV are unable to access life-saving anti-retroviral treatment.


1493 and the Hidden History of Industrial Capitalism

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C Mann

Vintage Books (2012)

Book Review

1493 is a fascinating book tracing a totally neglected aspect of the rise of capitalism and industrial civilization – namely the transfer of new crops, livestock, trees, diseases, guano (nitrogen-rich bird poop, silver and diverse ethnic groups to every continent except Antarctica. Based on his detailed investigations, Mann cites numerous examples of major historical events and movements that can be directly traced to this “Columbian Exchange.”

Mann begins by tracing the history of tobacco, which was first transferred from the lower Amazon to Jamestown Virginia, and from there to China. An immensely popular drug of addiction, it provided the cash England needed to support colonization of the South-eastern US.

He next focuses on the potato, which was transferred from the Andes in South America to Northern Europe, where it replaced wheat as the staple crop in Ireland, northern Germany, Belgium and Russia (potatoes flourish in colder climates and on more marginal land than wheat and are four times more productive). Thanks to the introduction of the potato, Europe was finally able to end the famines that occurred every ten years. At a time, when China, India and various African and South American civilizations were far more advanced than Europe, the main factor holding back European development was its inability to feed its population.

Next Mann covers the important of sugar (originally domesticated in New Guinea) to the West Indies and the importation of coffee and bananas (to South America) from Africa.

African Slaves Resistant to Malaria

He devotes a whole section to the transfer of diseases, which played a significant role in wiping out America’s indigenous population, to the New World. I was previously aware that new settlers also brought malaria with them. This often fatal illness was endemic to England in the 1500s – thanks to misguided schemes to reclaim wetlands for agriculture. The high prevalence of malaria meant that 8 out of 10 settlers in Jamestown and other southern colonies could be expected to die in the first 18 months. Mann makes a case that the natural resistance present in slaves from West and Central Africa** was a main factor in England (a historically antislavery nation) turning to slaves in their desperation to establish a labor force to work the tobacco fields.

Silver, Sweet Potatoes and the Downfall of China

The chapter on the role of the Columbian Exchange in the downfall of China as the most prosperous, politically developed and culturally sophisticated country in the world is also extremely enlightening. I was totally unaware that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all the silver mined in 16th century Peru was transported to China via the Philippines for use in their monetary system. Nor the importance of sweet potatoes and maize (which, like potatoes, thrive on marginal land) in feeding poor farmers displaced by China’s dynastic wars. China is still the number one world producer of sweet potatoes.

Why the US was the Last to Free Their Slaves

For me, the most interesting section was the one on slavery, particularly the chapter on the “maroon”*** revolts and guerilla warfare that forced Central and South America to abolish slavery long before the US did. Except for Florida, escaped slaves in the US tended not to form rebellious maroon enclaves. The reason, according to Mann, was their difficulty surviving on their own in a colder climate and the opportunity for legal freedom if they fled to the North.

In Florida, escaped slaves formed alliances with the Seminole Indians. Their guerilla bands conducted continual attacks (with covert British support) on Georgia – until 1839 when Florida maroons were granted their freedom if they agreed to resettle of the Mississippi.

*The Columbian Exchange was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas and the Old World in the 15th and 16th centuries, related to European colonization and trade after Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage.

**Approximately 97% of people indigenous to West and Central Africa are resistant to malaria owing to the presence of the Duffy Negative Antigen.

***Maroon is a term applied to fugitive black slaves.

Climate Change Throughout History


Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley

by Stephan Faris

Henry Holt (2009)

Book Review

Forecast is about historic and present day political, economic and health consequences of extreme climate disruption.

Farr begins by unpacking the Sudan civil war that began in Darfur in 2003. He makes a convincing case that decreased rainfall and desertification led to a bloody land war d between nomadic Arab camel herders and African farmers. He disputes that the conflict arose out of ethnic and religious differences, as the two groups shared the region harmoniously for hundreds of years until the climate changed.

He goes on to discuss studies comparing ice core findings to historical records. They conclude that all major European wars and Chinese dynastic changes followed major climate change.

Arctic Territorial Disputes

At the present time, the melting of Arctic sea ice has led to major border conflicts between countries eager to exploit the region’s vast mineral wealth. Tension is particularly high between Russian and Norway, Canada and Denmark and Canada and the US (over the border between the Yukon and Alaska). The opening of the Northwest Passage* to navigation for the first time in 2007 has led to an ongoing dispute whether these waters are Canadian territory or an international right of way, as claimed by the US.

International Alert predicts that forty-four countries are at risk of conflict (mainly over water rights) due to climate change. At the top of the list are India, Pakistan, China, Iran, Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria, Somalia, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Emergence of Epidemics

Faris’s section on the health consequences of climate change discusses the major epidemics that have emerged due to warmer, wetter weather patterns. This includes a big increase in malaria in Brazil and Mexico; in hantavirus, West Nile virus and Lyme disease in the US; ebola in Africa and in plague in Kazakhstan and India.

Ice core findings suggest the medieval Black Death (plague) in Europe was also triggered by climate change.

The Effect of Native American Genocide

The most interesting section of the book argues than human beings have been altering the climate, through deforestation, livestock husbandry and population explosions since the agricultural revolution. Climate scientists believe major deforestation in Europe started 7,500-8,000 years ago. Atmospheric carbon concentrations reached a peak during the Roman period and took a big dip (most likely due to depopulation) after Rome collapsed. They began to rise again in 1000 AD. Their sharp decline in 1500 coincided with a Little Ice Age characterized by brutally cold winters.

Faris agrees with William Ruddiman (Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate) who believes this steep drop stemmed from the decimation of Native American agricultural settlements (from genocide, smallpox, typhus, cholera and measles, diseases to which they had no immunity) in North and South America. Over two centuries, their population dropped from 50-60 million (one tenth of the global population) to five million. As they disappeared, forests and jungles, particularly in the Amazon, reclaimed the fields they had cleared for cultivation.

*The Northwest Passage is a sea through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It decreases the transit time from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (compared to the Panama Canal) by four days.