Rescuing the Mind of Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa Is a Hotbed of Environmental and Social Scourges That Compromise the Development and Health of the Human Brain-And Undermine the Region's Future

By Pellissier, Hank | The Futurist, September-October 2012 | Go to article overview

Rescuing the Mind of Africa: Sub-Saharan Africa Is a Hotbed of Environmental and Social Scourges That Compromise the Development and Health of the Human Brain-And Undermine the Region's Future


Pellissier, Hank, The Futurist


The future of sub-Saharan Africa may be at risk as damage continues to be inflicted on the minds and brains of the African population. Researchers such as psychologist Richard Lynn and political scientist Tatu Vanhanen have reported significantly lower IQ scores among sub-Saharan Africans compared with East Asians and Westerners. Why?

Africans have historically been oppressed by colonialist imperialism, capitalist exploitation, and authoritarian regimes. One way that oppression perpetuates victimization is by stunting cognitive abilities, diminishing people's capacity to be productive and politically engaged. Development economists and the public-health community recognize this as an intrinsic part of the gloomy cycle of underdevelopment.

The sub-Saharan human brain is severely maimed during development, due to disease, violence, malnutrition, pollution, poverty, illiteracy, and many other environmental, societal, and genetic factors.

This article seeks to outline the sources of brain damage in a less-developed region and to promote assistance to those who live in places where brains are under duress.

These environments can and must be improved in order for neurological functions to develop normally, enabling a large and vulnerable population to thrive.

The sub-Saharan's population of more than 800 million is anticipated to rise to 1.5 billion by 2050, according to United Nations reports. The region has the highest fertility rate in the world, but the lowest life expectancy. Nigeria is used as a primary source of dismal statistics for this article, because it is the most populous nation in the region, with 170 million citizens.

Diseases Compromising Brain Health and Functionality Two recent studies--a 2010 report from the University of New Mexico and 2011 research from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario--have strongly correlated low national IQs with high rates of infectious disease.

These findings mirror what Jared M. Diamond claimed in his 1999 best-seller, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies--i.e., endemic diseases thwart human advancement.

Biologist Christopher Eppig at the University of New Mexico recommends that "a social policy aimed at elevating IQ would want to focus on reducing the infection rates and durations of the infections that are most costly to the brain, which we predict include malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and intestinal worms."

* Malaria.

Every year, there are 225 million cases of malaria world-wide; 90% of these occur in the sub-Saharan region, where 3,000 people die every day of the disease. Nigeria alone accounts for 25% of the planet's malaria cases, with 30 million of its citizens contracting the scourge annually, leaving 300,000 of them dead.

The "brain insult" of malaria is horrendous. Cerebral malaria leaves its victims with neuro-physiological impairment to brain regions associated with planning, decision making, self-awareness, and social sensitivity. Young sub-Saharan Africans are vulnerable to drastic IQ reduction due to the malarial threat. From an energetic standpoint, the University of New Mexico researchers say, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, because both are very metabolically costly tasks.

Developing nations, including all of sub-Saharan Africa, have a far higher rate of mental retardation. Severe intellectual disability is found in only three to five of 1,000 people in high-income countries; developing countries, however, have disability rates from five to as much as 22 per 1,000 inhabitants. Malaria is one of the major contributing causes of mental retardation in developing countries.

One remedy is fairly simple: mosquito nets. Recently in Lagos, two mosquito nets were distributed to each family--a total of 4.1 million nets--in a fresh attempt to curb the sickening menace. …

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