Our Sista In Texas: Coronavirus Fallacies, By Bunmi Fatoye-Matory
How professional could a doctor be to declare highly-respected doctors and scientists fake? Between our sista and Dr. Fauci, who do I believe on the information about COVID-19? The choice is clear. Dr. Fauci talks science, the other talks politics. We need science to save us from this mortal enemy, not superstitions, obfuscations, anecdotes, misinformation, and drama.
What is not disputed is that the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is a threat to all humanity. It has not spared any country. What has been remarkable is the difference with which the science of this virus is being processed and disseminated by people of different political and religious persuasions. Conspiracy theories abound about the causes and treatment of this viral disease. Not too long ago, some political leaders here, including the president, called it a hoax. The president said that by the summer, it would have gone away. It is an election year here. As the virus takes a toll on human lives and the economy, politicians, looking at their electoral chances slipping away because of their incompetence in managing the virus, are resorting to misinformation and denials to force the society to reopen after the shutdowns.
The virus has now killed 150,000 Americans. One effective way that the virus has been so successful is through the misinformation and injection of conspiracy theories into the situation by right-wing politicians and operatives who think the measures that science says we should take to control and conquer the virus undermine their electoral chances. Shutting the country down means a contraction of the economy. Unemployment is dangerously high and there is no end in sight. They want to wish the virus away and make people pretend that the measures to restrict movements, wear masks and wash hands are a vast conspiracy from the opposition.
Into this toxic mix of politics, science, and religion stepped Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston-based pediatrician who had her degree in medicine from the University of Calabar and did her residency at a Bronx hospital in New York. In a press conference organised by the right wing, she, along with other doctors, and some Republican politicians, gathered on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. She loudly and dramatically proclaimed that the society does not need to shut down, that she has cured three hundred and fifty patients with Hydroxychloroquine and some other drugs, and that there is no need to wear masks. This performance has been viewed online by over 14 million people, and it was tweeted and retweeted by President Trump and his son before Twitter took it down for spreading misinformation.
Some months ago, President Trump had promoted Hydroxychloroquine as a cure, even though his own scientist on the Coronavirus Task Force, the highly-respected Dr. Anthony Fauci, had cautioned against it. The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also did not approve of Hydroxycholoroquine. This is after large randomised trials conducted with the medication showed that not only did it not improve the health of COVID-19 patients, it actually caused problems to the heart, kidney, liver, blood and lymph systems. Randomised trials are the gold standard in clinical trials, because they eliminate biases in research results. Dr. Immanuel has to know this as a medical doctor, but with a wave of the hand, she shockingly dismissed randomised trials, calling respected doctors like Indian-American, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who has been the rational and honest face of medical science on CNN, fake! She and the other doctors on the steps of the Supreme Court call themselves American Frontline Doctors, but they are not. No doctor who cares about the health of a country ravaged by coronavirus will declare wearing masks unnecessary, with 150,000 dead, including many health care providers. The real frontline doctors taking care of COVID-19 patients.
A few days ago, the head of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, Dr. Jose Costa, died of coronavirus. He was 59. He was described as being very fit and deeply committed to giving care to the many suffering from the virus. He, himself, succumbed to it. About 600 health care providers have died so far in the United States, while caring for COVID-19 patients. Many of our doctors and nurses are stretched to the limit, suffering physical and emotional exhaustion because their hospitals are inundated with COVID-19 patients. These are the real frontline doctors in America, not the ones toeing political lines to support incumbent politicians desperate for elections. The Hippocratic Oath says, First Do No Harm. A lot of harm was done to the American public by the misinformation spread by Dr. Immanuel, who said we don’t need to wear masks, and also prescribed a cure that she has not tested through randomised trials. She dismissed scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, a highly respected and trusted 79-year-old physician and public health expert, who has served under seven American presidents. He was a part of the task force that successfully stopped Ebola from becoming a public health disaster in the United States. He is a member of this president’s Coronavirus Task Force. His approval rating is very high, much higher than President Trump’s, meaning the majority of the country trusts the information coming from him on this virus. He talks science, not politics.
Why do I call her our sista, even though she is Cameroonian? Because she is. Here, all African immigrants are undifferentiated. We are all the same to our new country, regardless of our countries of origin, language, or cultural differences. And these superstitions she is spouting are not new to any of us, although her scientific twist is novel.
It is sad and shocking to see an African immigrant female doctor come out to repudiate science and truth, playing to all the imaginable prejudices and stereotypes possible about Africans, with regards to science. Dr. Immanuel is a fiery evangelical Christian who runs the Fire Power Ministry, along with her private practice in a strip mall in Houston, Texas. The current strains of Christianity came from the south of the United States. For decades, white evangelicals have been spreading their brand of Christianity in Africa and Latin America with great success. Dr. Immanuel is one of the recipients and promoters of these ideas. They work nicely with the local and cultural superstitions, except that someone like her now laced those superstitions with the knowledge she gleans from science. Fibroids and other gynecological problems are caused by demon sperms? Alien DNAs? Doctors developing vaccines to make people reject religion? These are some of the claims she has made on her Fire Power Ministry videos.
All of these superstitious beliefs, no doubt, reflect the beliefs associated with evangelical ideology, to which some Nigerian-Americans are strongly attached. American evangelicals supported slavery and Jim Crow, which dehumanised black people for centuries, and they are the strongest supporters of President Trump, who called black countries shithole countries, and said he prefers immigration from countries like Norway. People like Dr. Immanuel, because of her skin colour, are not wanted here. The only reason Dr. Immanuel and other black immigrants are here at all is because of the sacrifices and advocacy of African-Americans who worked so hard, under the threat to life and liberty, to make sure the American Immigration Policy opened up to include non-white people from Africa, Asia and other places. White evangelicals did not champion or endorse the immigration of dark-skinned people like her.
I was not prepared for an exchange I had a few days ago on one of my Nigerian groups’ social media platform. Someone there had posted the now-famous video of Dr. Immanuel to our platform, with his own comment that there is a cure for COVID-19, citing Dr. Immanuel’s claim as evidence. When I replied that this was no evidence and that WHO and FDA had warned us against this medication, my interlocutor got very angry, defended Dr. Immanuel and inexplicably ended his retort by saying, “God has anointed President Trump and nobody can remove him until he has fulfilled the purpose of God over this country.” I was confused. How did this health disinformation degenerate into political talk? I later learnt that the man is an evangelical Christian, the group with the unshakeable support for President Trump. This man, too, believes that COVID-19 virus is a conspiracy against the president’s re-election, and that there is a vast conspiracy by the opposition to keep the cure away from people. It was a profound moment for me. 150,000 thousand dead, including 600 caregivers, and the virus spreading in states which reopened without following the guidelines, yet some devoted to right wing politics still think it is a vast conspiracy, or they just don’t care.
Every week in the U.S., there are sad reports of COVID-19 deniers afflicted with the virus, who on their dying beds are expressing regret for believing that this deadly virus is not real, or that it’s not as dangerous as our scientists say it is. Whole families are getting infected, with serious health consequences. The multi-millionaire African-American and former Republican presidential candidate, Herman Cain, just died of coronavirus. He was 74. He was an admirer of President Trump. He attended a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 20, not wearing a mask and hobnobbing with others who were not wearing masks, and they all refused to keep social distance. Eleven days later, he came down with COVID-19 and had been in the hospital until he died. Some states are now trying to reverse the decision to reopen because their citizens are getting sick in record numbers and dying after reopening.
When I asked fellow Nigerians here about the unwavering support for President Trump by Nigerian-American evangelicals, a president who does not want them here, I learnt it is because of their deep opposition to gay rights. They think and hope President Trump will eviscerate the rights of gay Americans, who got these rights under President Obama. I learnt that their love for President Trump is just as strong as their hate for President Obama who supported gay rights.
It is therefore deeply embarrassing that the one African immigrant medical voice America heard on this matter is coming from a place of politics and superstition. Some Americans are now calling her “witch doctor”, “voodoo doctor” and questioning the validity of her medical education in Nigeria.
Congressman John Lewis, who just died of cancer, was a towering civil rights leader in America. Many decades ago, he put his life and freedom on line as a young man to fight for the civil rights of black Americans and other excluded Americans, including the new Americans, African immigrants, who would later enjoy these rights. But our evangelical brothers and sisters, joining up with white evangelicals, seek to destroy the freedom and rights of others, which they themselves enjoy in their own lives. Many of our people here are not educated about the brand of Christianity they practice, its history, and baggage. They also are tragically uninformed about the history of their new country. Our sista, Dr. Immanuel, is an evangelical Christian, so her unscientific proclamations on finding the cure for COVID-19 comes, not from her scientific and medical training, but from her store-front Fire Power Ministry. These beliefs also ally perfectly with the beliefs of the incumbent president, whose views on the medication and masks she parroted to the public. In contrast, in another video advertising her clinic and services, she talked like a real doctor, asking people to wear masks, wash hands and keep social distance, the exact opposite of what she said on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. How Christian or godly is it to put other people in harm’s way for political and selfish purposes?
Why do I call her our sista, even though she is Cameroonian? Because she is. Here, all African immigrants are undifferentiated. We are all the same to our new country, regardless of our countries of origin, language, or cultural differences. And these superstitions she is spouting are not new to any of us, although her scientific twist is novel. In fact, in the area of Nigeria where she got her medical education, the local culture, under the nefarious influence of an evangelical prophetess, persecuted children for being witches. Many children were beaten, driven from their homes by their families, burnt with hot iron, or outrightly murdered because they were accused of witchcraft. Children as young as three years old were brutalised because someone said they were witches. Of course, these are all children of the poor. Children of the middle and upper classes are never prophesised as having witchcraft, only the ones whose families cannot or do not want to take care of them because of poverty.
As a medical student in Calabar, she must have been aware of these terrible cases. The sad thing is that so far, hers is the most prominent African immigrant medical professional voice in the United State,s on this virus. Doctors from East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern backgrounds, male and female, are regularly invited by CNN and other major media outlets to give their scientific evaluations of this virus. I am yet to see one African immigrant doctor invited, even though they are so many in the country, working in research hospitals, leading laboratories, and having their own practices; real frontline doctors caring for COVID-19 patients. It is therefore deeply embarrassing that the one African immigrant medical voice America heard on this matter is coming from a place of politics and superstition. Some Americans are now calling her “witch doctor”, “voodoo doctor” and questioning the validity of her medical education in Nigeria. Why would a president, who called her country of origin a shithole country now tweet her unscientific claims to his followers? Why would the opinion of a doctor from a “shithole country” suddenly matter to this president?
When questioned by reporters if he was aware that Dr. Immanuel also said that doctors are working with alien DNA, President Trump said he doesn’t know this woman and which country she comes from, but because of her claims to have treated many patients successfully with hydroxychloroquine, he thinks her voice was an important one. He had long promoted hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 against the advice of his top scientists. On July 27, Dr. Immanuel tweeted, “Mr. President, I’m in town and available. I will like to meet you”, revealing her real heart’s desire. A good doctor who really cares for the health of the people would be meeting with other doctors and scientists to share her knowledge and data, follow the scientific process, and let her data be subjected to the double blind study she casually dismissed, instead of being the loudest spokesperson in a press conference organised by right wing politicians seeking re-election. How professional could a doctor be to declare highly-respected doctors and scientists fake? Between our sista and Dr. Fauci, who do I believe on the information about COVID-19? The choice is clear. Dr. Fauci talks science, the other talks politics. We need science to save us from this mortal enemy, not superstitions, obfuscations, anecdotes, misinformation, and drama.
Bunmi Fatoye-Matory was educated at the Universities of Ife and Ibadan, and Harvard University. She lives with her family in Durham, North Carolina. She is a writer and culture advocate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org