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'Only the best is good enough for Africa': Africans should not to be brainwashed into thinking we are chickens when in fact we have the potential of eagles. The future of New African best lies in continuing to provide the right information to correct misinformation and to expose disinformation, writes Prof Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu.

I WILL BEGIN BY PAYING TRIBUTE TO the mid 20th century undergraduate and postgraduate medical education in the UK that helped me to achieve. In the days without extraordinary gadgets to reveal the minute secrets hidden inside the human body, my teachers at the universities of London, Liverpool, and Cambridge taught me how to assess patients without the use of sophisticated tools.

They literally trained us for the bush, and that equipped me to fathom AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and to probe the commonest hereditary ailment in Africa, sickle cell disease, pointing out that we knew about it before the Americans saw it in blood 100 years ago. We called it in Ghana chwechweechwe (Ga), nwiiwii (Fante), ahotutuo (Twi), nuidudui (Ewe), koba-tuem (Buili), dobakotiri (Dagbani), paa (Kassena-Nankani), zezenu (Hausa), and in Yoruba aromolegun or lakuregbee.

Whereas undergraduate education taught me "what to think", postgraduate medical education taught me "how to think", thus equipping me for discoveries, debate, probing new diseases, criticising accepted wisdom, and publishing such things--some in New African.

An example demonstrating "how to think" rather than "what to think" is shown in my study of the Obama phenomenon which New African was bold enough to publish in December 2008. Sheer boldness is a forte of New African.

The received wisdom was that Barack Obama had not a chance to become president of the USA. But my medical education had taught me "how to think", and going against the "what to think" mindset, it enabled me even before Obama was inaugurated, to write and predict in New African (Dec 2008 issue) that: "With my enormous interest in history, placing that subject even above medical science, I make bold to say this: It is not at all hyperbolic of me to prognosticate that, God preserving him, President Obama will one day find himself the recipient of two Nobel Prizes, one for literature, and the other for peace."

That was December 2008. In less than a year Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. How did I hit that nail on the head? Answer: I refused to be told "what to think".

Prejudice

Racial prejudice underlies several "scientific pronouncements" about the African, namely that the African green monkey brought AIDS. I photographed the largest monkey meat market in the world in Monrovia, Liberia, at a time when the only AIDS patients in Liberia were prostitutes sent home to die from Cote d'Ivoire, and I published the fact in the leading medical journals.

On 2 May 1987, a UK professor published that a rare gene called "Group specific component GCIf" was unique, and it was found in Central Africans and homosexuals. The BBC gave prominence to this the very next day.

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I was the first to write to query the research. Twenty others followed over several months until the authors were forced to withdraw the article from publication. So there was no such gene at all. I waited in vain for the BBC to give the withdrawal the same prominence. It never happened, so listeners were left with the impression that homosexuals and Africans shared a genetic something called "Group specific component".

If the British medical journals can be said to be scrupulously fair, the same cannot be said of the British media. New African can repair the damage by republishing information that has already been published in medical and scientific journals. In July 2008, New African also made prominent a British government report which described how patients admitted to hospital in the UK fared. The NCE-POD (National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death) found that "nine of the 19 patients with sickle cell disease who had pain on admission and who then died had been given excessive doses of opioids", i.e. heroin or morphine.

The British Medical Journal made much of this in May 2008, but the British media hardly mentioned it. New African was there to warn African patients about the dangers of opioids in sickle cell disease. The magazine also featured four successive monthly articles in 2001 when I presented teaching about inheritance, children, teenagers, and adults with sickle cell disease. There is no comparable magazine worldwide that has done this.

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Incidentally, sickle cell disease is not a black disease as the "what to think" philosophy has propagated. It is common in the Mediterranean countries, and the highest incidence of the disease is not in Africa but in Praja Prajara in India.

But to me, historical facts are what make New African stand out as a world-beater. Cameron Duodu has a long memory which brings authenticity to anything he chooses to write about. Ayi Kwei Armah's knowledge of hieroglyphics makes him second to none in his analysis of our ancient past. He was the first to tell me that the ancient Egyptian name for parrot is the same as used right through West Africa: "akoo", "ekooo", "ako" with the tonal permutations which I have differentiated by colour (the first time this has been done, and published).

The future of New African best lies in continuing to provide correct information to correct misinformation, and to expose disinformation. The definition of disinformation is deliberate misinformation, as for example when a Cambridge University professor stated in print that AIDS burst on the world because Africans injected their thighs with monkey blood to enhance sexual powers.

He knew it was untrue, a classical case of disinformation. New African's duty is to assemble expertise equal to the best in the world as provided by sympathetic white people like the late Basil Davidson. New African should reveal untruths, and expose sinister intentions behind disinformation.

In the October 2004 issue of New African, I wrote about my hero, Dr James E. Kwegyir Aggrey. I mentioned how he urged Africans not to be brainwashed into thinking we were chickens when in fact we have the potential of eagles. "Only the best is good enough for Africa," he was always saying.

To Aggrey, a lazy African is a disgrace. A great weapon against racial prejudice is excellence--which is exemplified by this true story: A Ghanaian medical student in Britain, a friend of mine, found himself selected with 10 bright pre-clinical students to do a special degree before going on to the wards for another three years to become a doctor. He was the only black man. He came top throughout the preclinical course in every subject.

Six weeks before the finals, his very nice British tutor called him and asked what his revision plans were. The tutor guided him on what to emphasise and what to leave out. On the exam day, with three separate, three-hour papers, my friend phoned me after the first paper. All he kept saying was "I cannot believe this. I cannot believe this." He later came home in tears barely able to walk, shattered. The very nice tutor had completely misled him.

When the results came, he had passed but did not come top. To the wards he went for the three-year course. When the real finals came to becoming a doctor, the Ghanaian came top of the entire university of more than 200 students, with a First Class pass. The Professor of Medicine (Lord Rosenheim FRS) had no colour prejudice and he gave him the best house job in England.

Now, read this carefully: Halfway through the job, the Ghanaian was asked urgently to go and see someone in a private ward, seriously ill. Just as he went in, the "patient" (who happened to be his former tutor who had misled him) called his name and said to him: "Forgive me. Please forgive me. Three years ago I deprived you of the top prize." The Ghanaian said to him: "Sir, as soon as I realised what you had done, I forgave you." The tutor died two weeks later from cancer of the lung. Aggrey of Africa suffered much prejudice against himself, but he soared, and soared, and soared. So should we. May New African encourage us to do just that!

PROF FELIX I D KONOTEY-AHULU, the Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, is a world authority on sickle cell disease, and a soldier for Africa in the medical world. His battling for the African cause, medically speaking, is exemplary. A consultant physician and genetic counsellor in sickle cell and other hemoglobinopathies, Prof Konotey-Ahulu, who practices in the UK, has won several awards in the past. His latest award--the "Regional Prize for the Public Understanding and Popularisation of Science"--was announced in Hyderabad, India, on 22 October 2010. It was given by The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS). The award will be presented to him at a scientific conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in February next year.
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Title Annotation:Icons
Author:Konotey-Ahulu, Felix I D.
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Words:1462
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