Elephants and the virus ...

Namibia to date has about 12 cases of COVID-19 positive patients and is a growing number. This South-West African country borders on South Africa which is the African nation where the Coronavirus has spread the most, about 700 thousand positive cases. Last month, the Namibian Minister of Health warned the population against using elephant dung as a COVID cure. The "poop" of these extraordinary animals has always been used in traditional medicine especially as a vapor and inhaled to treat flu, nosebleeds, headaches and toothaches. An elephant produces up to 100 kg per day, a good amount of undigested seeds, fruits and fibers, and in this way these extraordinary animals "transport the forests". And it is also used in various ways, from production from paper eco friendly to insect repellent or biogas. But in recent months with the spread of the Coronavirus, its demand has greatly increased, causing prices to skyrocket. Hence the government stance that has prohibited its collection within national parks while outside the boundaries of reserves is permitted even if its use in an anti-COVID key is not recommended.

Faced with a new disease, man has always sought possible quick and immediate remedies. The work of science involves a rational, long and difficult method and the evidence must always be demonstrable. In some cases, traditional medicine has its own value and effectiveness, especially when it is born from the careful observation of nature and empirical mechanisms of cause and effect. Quite another thing are the remedies of pure invention that often arise from understandable despair in the face of new and uncontrollable phenomena, epidemics and incurable diseases.

In these days here on the Equator we look with extreme concern at the resurgence of the pandemic in the Northern part of the world. Friends and colleagues often ask us: “but how are you doing? How many positives, how many seriously ill patients in intensive care? ”. Here in Kenya very few swabs are carried out, a few thousand a day. From which few positives in numerical terms, but many in percentage, about 10% of the tests done. Relatively few ICU patients, but resuscitation wards across the country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Despite the uncertain data, the clinical impact and mortality actually appear to be less than on other continents. The daily feedback in our hospital and in the peripheral centers also confirms a low number of very serious patients. In light of the current knowledge which is certainly limited, especially on genetics and receptors and on the possible protective role of previous vaccinations, the clinical situation in Africa seems less serious, at least until now, in the face of dramatic socio-economic consequences. We can consider some factors. Undoubtedly the role of the young age of the population, in Kenya more than 50% of the inhabitants are under 15 years old. The number of retirement homes is very small, with the elderly living in their villages of origin and not staying in the city. Here is the warm season that will last until March and life often takes place outdoors. At these latitudes we are continually experiencing epidemics. Aware of the lack of hospital facilities, but also recognizing the essential importance of health education and prevention, the Primary Health it works quite well. Instead, in certain Italian regions more has been invested in private health and in highly specialized clinics, cutting funds for territorial and preventive medicine and small hospitals in provincial centers, very useful outposts for the health of citizens.

We should take the opportunity, albeit dramatic, of the pandemic to rethink our being in the world, our priorities.

We learn from elephants, social and highly intelligent animals, slow but effective thinkers, sowers of forests, who struggle to survive the destruction of nature, greed, stupidity and lack of foresight of men.

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