Archive for category Health

Kemet and Science: Surgery

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The Kemetyu contribution to science and applied mathematics has left a valuable legacy in the fields of physics, chemistry, zoology, geology, medicine, pharmacology, geometry and applied mathematics. In fact, they gave to humanity a large store of experience in each of these fields, some of which were combined in order to execute a specific project.


It was, undoubtedly, the knowledge they acquired from mummification that enabled the Kemetyu to develop surgical techniques at a very early period in their history. We have quite a good knowledge of Kemetyu surgery, in fact, thanks to the Smith Papyrus, a copy of an original which was composed under the Old Kingdom, between —2600 and —2400.

This papyrus is virtually a treatise on bone surgery and external pathology. Forty-eight cases are examined systematically. In each case, the author of the treatise begins his account under a general heading: ‘Instructions concerning [such and such a case]’; followed by a clinical description: ‘If you observe [such symptoms]’. The descriptions are always precise and incisive. They are followed by the diagnosis: ‘You will say in this connection a case of [this or that wound]’, and, depending on the case, ‘a case that I can treat’ or ‘the case is without remedy’. If the surgeon can treat the patient, the treatment to be administered is then described in detail, for example: ‘the first day you will apply a bandage with a piece of meat; afterwards you will place two strips of cloth in such a way as to join the lips of the wound together . . . ‘.

Several of the treatments indicated in the Smith Papyrus are still used today. Kemetyu surgeons knew how to stitch up wounds and to set a fracture using wooden or pasteboard splints. And there were times when the surgeon simply advised that nature should be allowed to take its own course. In two instances, the Smith Papyrus instructs the patient to maintain his regular diet.

Of the cases studied by the Smith Papyrus, the majority concerned superficial lacerations of the skull or face. Others concerned lesions of the bones or joints such as contusions of the cervical or spinal vertebrae, dislocations, perforations of the skull or sternum, and sundry fractures affecting the nose, jaw, collar-bone, humerus, ribs, skull and vertebrae. Examination of mummies has revealed traces of surgery, such as the jaw dating from the Old Kingdom which has two holes bored to drain an abscess, or the skull fractured by a blow from an axe or sword and successfully reset. There is also evidence of dental work such as fillings done with a mineral cement, and one mummy had a kind of bridge of gold wire joining two shaky teeth.

By its methodical approach, the Smith Papyrus bears testimony to the skill of the surgeons of ancient Kemet, skill which it would be fair to assume was handed on gradually, in Africa as well as in Asia and to classical antiquity, by the doctors who were always attached to Kemetyu expeditions to foreign lands. Moreover, it is known that foreign sovereigns, like the Asian prince of Bakhtan, Bactria, or Cambyses himself, brought in Kemetyu doctors, that Hippocrates ‘had access to the library of the Imhotep temple at Memphis’ and that other Greek physicians later followed his example.

Authors: R. El Nadoury with collaboration of Vercoutter. General History of Africa Vol.II. [Editor: G.Mokhtar] Ancient Civilisations of Africa. Chapter 5. Legacy of Pharaonic Egypt.

R. El Nadoury (Egypt); specialist in ancient history; author of numerous works and articles on the history of the Maghrib and of Egypt; Professor of Ancient History and Vice-Chairman of the Faculty of Arts, University of Alexandria.


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Kemet and Science: Medicine


Medical knowledge can be considered as one of the most important early scientific contributions of the ancient Kemetyu to the history of man.
Documents show in detail the titles of Egyptian physicians and their different fields of specialization. In fact the civilizations of the ancient Near East and the classical world recognized the ability and reputation of the ancient Kemetyu in medicine and pharmacology. One of the most significant personalities in the history of medicine is Imhotep, the vizier, architect and physician of King Zoser of the third dynasty. His fame survived throughout Kemetyu ancient history and through to Greek times.
Deified by the Kemetyu under the name Imouthes, he was assimilated by the Greeks to Askelepios, the god of medicine. In fact, Kemetyu influence on the Greek world in both medicine and pharmacology is easily recognizable in remedies and prescriptions. Some medical instruments used in surgical operations have been discovered during excavations.
Written evidence of ancient Kemetyu medicine comes in medical documents such as the Ebers Papyrus, the Berlin Papyrus, the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus and many others which illustrate the techniques of the operations and detail the prescribed cures.

These texts are copies of originals dating back to the Old Kingdom (c. —2500). In contrast to the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, which is highly scientific, the purely medical texts were based on magic. The Kemetyu regarded sickness as the work of the gods or malevolent spirits, which provided justification for resorting to magic and which explains why some of the remedies prescribed on the Ebers Papyrus, for example, resemble more a magical incantation than a medical prescription.

Despite this aspect, common to other ancient civilizations as well, Kemetyu medicine was a considerable science which contained the beginnings of a methodical approach, especially in the observation of symptoms, and this method doubtless passed to posterity by reason of its importance. The Kemetyu doctor examined his patient and determined the symptoms of his complaint. He then made his diagnosis and prescribed treatment. All the extant texts describe this sequence, from which it may be concluded that it was standard procedure. The examination was made in two stages some days apart if the case was unclear. Among the ailments identified and competently described and treated by Kemetyu doctors were gastric disorders, stomach swelling, skin cancer, coryza, laryngitis, angina pectoris, diabetes, constipation, haemorrhoids, bronchitis, retention
and incontinence of urine, bilharzia, ophthalmia, etc.

The Kemetyu doctor treated his patient using suppositories, ointments, syrups, potions, oils, massages, enemas, purges, poultices, and even inhalants whose use they taught to the Greeks. Their pharmacopoeia contained a large variety of medicinal herbs, the names of which, unfortunately, elude translation. Egyptian medical techniques and medicines
enjoyed great prestige in antiquity, as we know from Herodotus. The names of nearly one hundred ancient Kemetyu physicians have been passed down to us through these texts. Among them are oculists and dentists, of whom Hesy-Re, who lived around —2600 under the fourth dynasty, could be considered as one of the most ancient. Among the specialists
were also veterinarians. The physicians used a variety of instruments in their work.

Authors: R. El Nadoury with collaboration of Vercoutter. General History of Africa Vol.II. [Editor: G.Mokhtar] Ancient Civilisations of Africa. Chapter 5. Legacy of Pharaonic Egypt.

R. El Nadoury (Egypt); specialist in ancient history; author of numerous works and articles on the history of the Maghrib and of Egypt; Professor of Ancient History and Vice-Chairman of the Faculty of Arts, University of Alexandria.



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The miasma of domination

Have you ever wondered… what it’s all for? Why bother waking up everyday just to repeat the same old grind, the same old depressing life, day in, day out? You are not alone….

The World Health Organisation estimates 350 million people of all ages, globally, suffer from depression. Depression is the leading cause – the leading cause – of ill health worldwide. More women are affected by depression than men and at its worst depression can lead to suicide.

There are glaring social inequalities explaining why so many people are so unhappy with their lives here on the planet. It is not just by coincidence or chance. We know from our day to day living that when we are unhappy, it is not by chance or accident. There are always reasons, whether these are recent, or have existed for a long time, as far as can we remember. It is just that the reason or reasons for our unhappiness may be circumstances or social situations that are beyond our control. Unless, we are responsible for our own depression by something we said, or did, or even thought! Yes, depression can be temporary, or can last over long periods of time – even years.

But let’s first take a look at our social condition as the human race, and what would contribute to so much misery! I posted an earlier article about the structure of domination in human society. This follow up post looks at how systems of domination create social dysfunction through exclusion of marginalised groups. Social exclusion is the process by which certain groups are systematically disadvantaged because they are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, descent, gender, age, disability, HIV status, migrant status and along the lines of any other demographic out there. Discrimination occurring in the wider society and its’ institutions both stems from and occurs among families at the level of the household.

Unequal power relations in social interactions between individuals and groups all lead to deficiencies in social participation, social protection, social integration and power for those at the lower end of the power spectrum. These exclusionary processes are seen across the four dimensions:

  • Political exclusion, which includes the denial of citizenship rights such as political participation and the right to organise, and also of personal security, the rule of law, freedom of expression and equality of opportunity.
  • Economic exclusion, which includes lack of access to labour markets, credit and other forms of capital assets.
  • Social exclusion, which takes the form of discrimination along the lines of; gender, ethnicity, age, etcetera, which reduces the opportunity for such groups to gain access to social services and limits their participation in the labour market.
  • Cultural exclusion, which refers to the extent to which diverse values, norms and ways of living are accepted and respected.

The Impact:

Globally, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty (measured as living on less than $1.25 a day). There are about one in five persons who are affected in developing regions, the overwhelming majority of whom are found in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This then translates into poorer levels of health and education, particularly when poverty is combined with remoteness and lack of infrastructure and social services.

The psychological aspects of marginalisation described by Eyben and colleagues (2008):

‘The injury done to people who experience discrimination on the basis of labels they are given by society and entrenched ideas about their inferiority or societal taboos around sex, death and dirt goes well beyond that of economic deprivation and lack of political voice. When people are treated as lesser because of the colour of their skin, their sex, what they do for a living, and where they live, they can come to internalise a sense of lack of worth that profoundly affects their sense of what they can do and what they are due by society’ 

What Next?

Advocating or agitating for social change can be undertaken by excluded groups forming and/or participating in organisations that represent their group interests. And where possible, potential partnerships should be built between the state and civil society to drive transformative agendas.

At individual level, we need to be constantly reminded of and affirm our worth as human beings; who are just as deserving. When our minds, bodies and spirits are constantly beset by adversity; we must seek deep within our spiritual core for groundedness. And by spiritual; I don’t mean religious, as institutional religions are as much to blame as regressive cultures and educational systems in perpetuating systems of domination. It is to remember that there is so much more to us as individuals than just marginalised bodies living in human society. We are essentially spiritual beings having a human experience. And it is in this spiritual centeredness that we must seek refuge.

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Money, Currency and Life

Yes, they’re different

Currency refers to a medium of exchange meant to ‘store value’ usually in the form of paper or coins. This legal tender represents or is backed by actual goods and services. Credit, on the other hand, refers to ‘virtual’ currency or ‘debt’ created by banking institutions, which is responsible for inflation and therefore unsustainable.

Money [as both currency and credit] has come to be valued as life itself and not just a means to [physically] sustain life. A quote by Mama from Lorraine Hansberry’s play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ further illustrates this;

”Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change . . .”

A brief chronology of money:

The monetary system was developed as way of placing a value on sought-after goods and services (human labour). Initially, a barter system existed between societies by trading or exchanging goods and services directly. However, some limitations were encountered with the direct exchange system such as; difficulty in storing wealth, no common measure of value, indivisibility of certain goods, etcetera, which led to the emergence of the current money economy.

While this financial system has been useful, it has become increasingly clear that there are several downsides to it. The system has enormously contributed to crime, corruption and poverty with a social stratification marked by economic disparity between individuals, various social groups and communities. This has resulted in individuals, corporations or countries who have higher purchasing power unduly influencing public policy and global governance to the detriment of more economically and socially marginalized people and communities.

Money is neutral and is not necessarily the evil here. The great evil being structures of social domination along various demographic lines such as race, gender, class, geographical location and so on. The inevitable interaction between the financial economic system and underlying structures of domination has led to the dysfunction and inequity being experienced under the socio-economic environment.

On the whole, money simply stands between what one needs and what one is able to get. Essentially, it is not so much money we need, as the access to resources that we require to live healthy, holistic and fulfilled lives as whole human beings.

What is a healthy and holistic life?

The World Health Organisation defines health as; a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’  And I would like to add spiritual well-being, for those human communities who believe we are also souls and not just physical bodies.

For everyone to experience an equitable state of well-being, be it physical, mental or social, an equal playing field needs to be set right from the start of one’s life. We need to empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status. This should result in equitable rights, representation and resource sharing that is fair for everyone. It is imperative that the representation and voice of developing nations in international decision-making is enhanced regarding economic and financial institutions for global equity across countries and regions.

What alternatives for an equitable society?

”We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
~ Albert Einstein

A number of researchers have outlined alternative interventions towards a more peaceful and sustainable global civilization. Jacque Fresco, the visionary for the Venus Project which advocates for a currency free, cooperative, socio-economic model states,

”…All nations and people, regardless of political philosophy, religious beliefs, or social customs, depend upon natural resources; we all need clean air and water, arable land for food, and the necessary technology and personnel to maintain a high standard of living.

….the Earth has abundant resources and our practice of rationing these resources through the use of money is an outdated method which causes much suffering. It is not money that we need but the intelligent management of the earth’s resources for the benefit of everyone. We could best work towards achieving this by using a resource based economy.”

The Transition

A good question that comes up is, ‘…but how are we going to get there?’. It is a great idea – the resource-based economy, but how to do it? In fact, as far back as 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes had envisaged an increase in productivity (by 2030) with the advancement of machines and technology freeing up human labour and correspondingly allowing for a shorter working day, as low as 3 hours a day. His views have been backed by a number of modern day thinkers who posit that a gradual reduction of the working day will help [a steady state or no growth] economy, protect the environment, and improve the well-being of the population, all with one single measure.


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Some public officials are more equal than others

The Daily Trust reported that the Federal Government of Nigeria spent close to one billion US dollars ($1 billion) in the year 2014 on medical care for public officials abroad.

Correspondingly, in 2012, the Daily Monitor, a Uganda newspaper concurred that the government spends at least $150 million (about UGX 377 billion) on treatment of mostly top government officials outside the country.

Some have offered defeatist arguments that this is inevitable in corrupt-ridden poor economies anyway. But these are public taxes we are talking about, and it is many of us in the formal sector who are paying for these exclusive entitlements be afforded some, and not even all public officials.

It is not fair. To the rest of us.

Decisions to pay these cash outs are mostly informal, as in not supported by any formal policies. I do not see official government policy being stamped for approval by all national stakeholders, using taxpayer funds, to benefit the few senior public officials and their families.

Let’s say African national governments decided to formally institute inequitable policies that treated public officials better, healthcare wise, than the general population; then only a smaller percentage of this could be spent on health insurance just for these public officials. Our countries would lose less, just to provide healthcare for these privileged few using insurance not cash payments for whenever someone falls ill.

Needless to say, these privileged few can actually afford private health insurance to receive care almost anywhere in the world from their own incomes, or funds already looted from the public coffers anyway.

The Daily Monitor further adds that treatment abroad costs nearly half of Uganda’s health sector budget.

These extra, unnecessary expenditures should simply go back into the already under-funded national health systems. Mind, these are recurrent costs, year in, year out. And likely increasing with succeeding years. Imagine how much of the recurrent health sector budget would benefit from these wasted expenditures in terms of human resources, much needed drugs, equipment and other medical supplies or even infrastructure.

Rwanda on the other hand will offer ordinary citizens, not just senior government officials, medical care outside the country if this is required. A medical board in the referring health facility makes the decision to recommend to government specialised care outside Rwanda if this cannot be provided nationally. Rwanda’s health system is paid for by state funds (both from national tax and external donor support) and by individuals’ contributions through health insurance and direct fees for services.


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