Sunday, May 17, 2009

Inoculation brought over from Africa

The website is a little abrassive... its a response to the question "How could a primitive African, a slave, have anything to offer sophisticated Westerners"?

The answer given is the tale of Onesimus, a slave of the famous Reverend Cotton Mather, "most notable of all the Puritan divines," and how he potentially introduced inoculation to North American from Africa.

"I have since mett with a considerable number of these Africans, who all agree in One Story; That in their Countrey grandy-many dy of the Small-Pox; But now they learn This Way: People take Juice of Small-Pox; and Cutty-skin, and Putt in a Drop. Then by’nd by a little Sicky, Sicky; then very few little things like Small-Pox, and nobody dy of it; and nobody have Small-Pox any more. Thus in Africa, where the Poor Creatures dy of the Small-Pox like Rotten Sheep, a Merciful GOD has taught them an Infallible Praeservatve, Tis a common Practice and is attended with a Constant Success.”
-Cotton Mather recording an interaction he had with his slave Onesimus. (1721)

When Mather first shared this idea with Boston officials and proposed that it be taken in heavy consideration as a prevention against smallpox, he was immediately turned away when his audience found out that his idea came from his slave. This was in 1721. Mather remained persistent and kept trying to convince officials of Onesimus's (his slave's name) intelligence and the usefulness of the information Onesimus carried.

However, it wasn't until after 5000 people were infected by smallpox, leading to 500 deaths, that Boston took the idea seriously and utilized it. Lucky for them that they did, since in the next epidemic when most of the population was inoculated, only 69 people died.

Personal thoughts: It made me wonder if progress in medical science is currently held back by racism in much the same way in our discussed instance. Actually, I'm interested in the current racial issues of infectious disease. Maybe I'll do my presentation on it.


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