In late March I received a very important document from an unknown source via email. This document is a Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment. The Handbook is a sharing of clinical experiences at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China from the First Affiliated Hospital of the Zhejiang University School of Medicine. It has been translated and made available by the Jack Ma Foundation and his international commerce company Alibaba. The Handbook is a comprehensive look at how to successfully combat this novel coronavirus and contains much useful information. To quote from the forward of the Handbook, “Thanks to the pioneering efforts of medical staff and the application of new technologies, to date, we have witnessed a miracle. No staff were infected, and there were no missed diagnosis or patient deaths.” .Included in the Handbook are methods of organizing the intake of those possibly infected, proper use of protective equipment, effective hospital protocols, methods of disinfection and disposal of medical waste, a system of using the internet to create online healthcare and a comprehensive section on diagnosis of the virus as well as efficient methods of treatment including use of specific medicines and Chinese traditional medicine. When I received this document, I first sought to check its authenticity and when satisfied that it seemed legitimate, I began to share it widely.
I received this Handbook at the same time that New York hospitals were getting overwhelmed by the intake of large numbers of those infected with this novel coronavirus. It appeared that here in the United States certain international experiences with COVID-19 were not being factored into the worsening crisis. Aside from the Chinese experience, news came out of Italy, Honduras, Jamaica and Venezuela that Cuban doctors were in possession of Interferon alpha 2B, a medicine that was an effective antiviral. Cuban doctors armed with this new medical weapon have been dispatched around the world to combat this new disease. The World Health Organization (WHO), which the White House seeks to denounce and defund, made COVID-19 testing kits available to 57 countries. Instead of learning from the WHO test, the USA decided to create its own. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) developed its own test which initially failed miserably. Here in the US, the COVID-19 national response emanating from the White House appeared ignorant, incoherent and anti-scientific. It looked like the clowns in Washington DC were trying to make things up as they went along. This crisis has made me reflect on why ignorance, narrow “ideological” views and ego would direct activity designed to “save” American lives.
“American Exceptionalism” can be defined as the belief that America is qualitatively superior to all other nations because of its beliefs, institutions, history and experiences. Practically, it means that ruling elites and their followers believe that America can do everything better than all other nations. An arrogance that allows Americans to ignore the experiences and wisdom of others has followed. It needs to be noted that aside from the intellectual and historical flaws associated with American Exceptionalism, this notion is also inherently racist and xenophobic. Let me give some examples of how this warped attitude/belief harms us all.
In August 2005, the Cuban government offered to help the United States respond to Hurricane Katrina by sending medical staff and disaster experts to New Orleans. President George Bush rejected the offer to help with tragic consequences. More recently, the Cuban government offered assistance after Puerto Rico experienced hurricanes and a later earthquake. Cuba also offered assistance after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti but again the offer was rejected by the US government. The response of FEMA and other US government agencies to these disasters have been less than adequate.
On the larger international stage, American foreign policy has often been directed by notions of “American Exceptionalism”. Two graphic examples come to mind. After the French were defeated in Vietnam, the United States sought to prop up a puppet regime and support it militarily thinking that the outcome would be different. The outcome was the same as the United States was soundly beaten by the Vietnamese people. The Soviet Union was forced to leave Afghanistan as a result of ongoing resistance from various Afghan forces including those supported by the United States. Afghanistan is known as “The Graveyard of Empires.” Several nation/states have sought to subdue Afghanistan but the result has always been the same. In 2020 it is apparent that the United States intervention in Afghanistan has been a failure. The notion of “American Exceptionalism” is a disproven myth.
Why would a failed myth determine the strategies for fighting a global pandemic which has impacted the United States more severely than any other country? COVID-19 has become “The American Virus” since it has, to date, devastated the United States far worse than any other nation. Black and Brown communities across the US have been ravaged by this virus. Systemic and Institutional Racism have relegated our people to second class medical disaster. There is blood on the hands of the US government. Instead of blaming others and performing poorly, FEMA, the CDC and the NIH (National Institute of Health) must seek to actively learn from the Cuban and Chinese efforts.
We will not know the full impact of COVID-19 and be clear about its origins until People’s Tribunals are convened to look at all the information available. That can only happen when the virus subsides, although there have been initial efforts to convene such Tribunals remotely. In the meantime, we must use tools such as the Handbook of COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment to inform our practice. We will get through this if we truly begin to support each other and learn from the collective experiences of Cuba, China, Italy and others as we move forward. For now, keep strengthening your immune system. StayWell and Stay Safe. Peace!
Basir Mchawi is an activist, educator and communicator. He can be heard on his award winning WBAI radio program, Education at the Crossroads, on Thursdays at 8 pm.