Africa: The Brazilian Connection

The flow of culture between The Mother Continent and South America’s largest country runs both ways.

Wherever you set foot there and for as long as you live, Africa will always find ways to amaze and surprise you.

The latest surprise to me came as I was preparing information on a nine-day tour next year to the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau.

Adventure? The country boasts pristine forests, wild rivers, unspoiled beaches, the world’s largest continuous line of mangrove forest.

Culture? Try the Bijagos Islands, an archipelago of 88 islands, of which only  20 are inhabited. Because of their isolation, the tribal culture there has survived into the 21st century intact.

But this was what stopped me in my proverbial tracks: “Carnival is the main festivity in Guinea Bissau.”

We’re actually talking here about Carnaval. As in the Carnaval of Brazil.

Say what?

The African roots of Brazil’s biggest cultural festival are a well-established fact. But those roots have reached back across the Atlantic all the way rto Africa — some by choice, some not.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade took more captive Africans  to Brazil than anywhere else, upwards of 4 million over three centuries, many of whom were Muslims of the Yoruba and Hausa peoples.

It must have a been a bizarre relationship — West Africans, often Muslims literate in Arabic, being worked and brutalized by slaveholders who often couldn’t read or write in their native Portuguese.

Some fled into the jungles to form Maroon communities called quilombos. Others rebelled, most notably the Malê Revolt of 1835.

The revolt was crushed, and the open practice of Islam eradicated. Many of the surviving rebels were deported to West Africa.

Over time,  many Brazilian slaveowners — for commercial more than moral reasons — opted to free their slaves. Slavery in Brazil ended altogether in 1888 — partly in fear of another Malê Revolt.

Many of the newly freed remained in Brazil and develop today’s rich heritage of Afro-Brazilian culture. Others returned to their ancestral homelands.

Some returned to Nigeria, where they remain as both Africans and Brazilians to this day.  Others went to countries like Guinea-Bissau.

(At the same time, there are significant numbers of native-born Angolans, whose ancestors were a major source of enslaved Africans from Brazil to Louisiana, who today are opting to migrate to Brazil.  )

So around the time that Carnaval is being celebrated on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Salvador, Bahia, you’ll find similar celebrations going on in Afro-Brazilian communities up and down the coast of West Africa…including in Guinea-Bissau.

For more information on that, and other cultural tours in Africa, visit  Trips by Greg.

 

Yellow Fever: Shot shortage

If you’re planning a tropical vacation in the next year or so, especially to Africa, get your yellow fever vaccination sooner than later — if you can. 

Buried deep in the bowels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site is the following little announcement:

“Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer of the only yellow fever vaccine (YF-Vax) licensed in the United States, has announced that YF-Vax will be unavailable from mid-2017 to mid-2018 because of delays in the production process.”

According medical media reports, this all started in 2016, when Sanofi Pasteur began switching to a new manufacturing plant. In process, already manufactured doses of YF-Vax were lost.

Nobody is saying exactly how many were lost, but apparently, the number was pretty large.

By now, the country’s supply of YF-Vax may already be gone.

According to CDC, Sanofi Pasteur has offered up a French substitute, Stamaril. It’s currently used in 70 countries, but it’s not licensed in the United States.

Which means that, under federal law, it has to be treated as an experimental drug.  That means only a limited number of travel health clinics around the country —- 250 — will even be allowed to offer it.

Two hundred fifty clinics across the US with Stamaril vaccine — so what’s the big deal, right?

Compare that with the 4,000 clinics that usually have YF-Vax, and you see the problem.

This CDC page will show you where you can find the US clinics that have Stamaril.

If you’ve already been inoculated against yellow fever, you’re golden.  The vaccine is now considered to give life-long protection against the disease.

As always, check with your doctor before you travel, but so as long as you can show your signed and dated “yellow card” like the one above, you should be fine, even if the date has expired.

If you’ve never been inoculated for yellow fever before, get thee to a clinic in a hurry. Either that, or start looking elsewhere for your next big trip.

Like, maybe, the Alps?

Yellow fever was long ago eradicated in the US. Elsewhere in the world, where mosquitoes are not as well controlled, it’s still a potential scourge.  A 2013 worldwide outbreak, produced  127,000 severe/toxic cases and 45,000 deaths.

Nine out of ten of those fatalities were in Africa.

ONE DISEASE, TWO FLAVORS

Like malaria, yellow fever comes in two versions — mild and severe. The Mayo Clinic refers to the mild version of yellow fever as “acute,” and the severe version as “toxic” — which should tell you something.

The mild/acute version is like the worst flu you’ve ever had, times ten. The severe/toxic version can kill you in a few days, especially if doctors mistakenly diagnose it as something else — which happens often.

And like most other mosquito-borne diseases,  there is no cure for it.

THE TEN-DAY ITCH

These days, most African countries require visitors to show proof of vaccination against yellow fever in the form of a yellow vaccination certificate like the one shown above. If you can’t, you may be denied entry.

“Can’t I just go to a hospital and get the vaccination once I arrive in my destination country?”

No. The vaccine needs ten days to take effect.

If they’re not covered by your health insurance, these shots can be obscenely expensive. I’ve seen travel clinics charging almost $300 — and that was before the YF-Vax shortage.

Eye-watering as that price is, it still doesn’t compare to the money you would  lose if your trip was scuttled because you didn’t get  inoculated.  So get your yellow fever shot.

If you can find one.