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Six Brain-Damage Scourges that can Cripple IQ in Sub-Saharan Africa

Posted: Sun, January 20, 2013 | By: Hank Pellissier



Why do academic tomes like Wealth and the IQ of Nations insist that the average Sub-Saharan African’s IQ is 30-40 points lower than an East Asian’s IQ?  How can that book give Hong Kong an IQ of 106 and Equatorial Guinea a mere 59?

In 2002, Wealth and the IQ of Nations posited frightfully low IQ numbers for Sub-Saharan Africa.  When the book’s authors - Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen - recalculated the data in their 2006 update, IQ and Global Inequality, they arrived at equally abysmal figures: Sierra Leone (64), The Congo (65), Zimbabwe (66), Guinea (66), Nigeria (69), The Gambia (66), Senegal (66), Mozambique (64), Gabon (64), Central African Republic (64), Equatorial Guinea (59), Liberia (67), Lesotho (67), Angola (68), Niger (67), South Africa (72).

The IQ numbers compiled by Lynn and Vanhanen were lambasted by other researchers, and a rival study, led by Jelte M. Wicherts of The Netherlands, claimed a considerably higher average IQ for the Sub-Saharan region: 82.  But even this lags excruciatingly far behind East Asia and the Western world. Why?

The Sub-Saharan human brain can be severely maimed in gestation and early childhood, due to six post-conception horrors: disease, violence, malnutrition, pollution, poverty and illiteracy. Many of the cognitive cripplers that I listed in my previous essay, “Brain Damage: 87 factors that stupefy intelligence” are located in this underdeveloped region.

Decent humans want to believe everyone remains equal in mental ability, no matter how disparate the environments. I appreciate this idealism, but it is anti-scientific and counter-productive to view our brains as impervious to outside harm. My article seeks to promote assistance to those who live in places where brains are under duress.  I want their environments improved, so their neurological functions can thrive. My ambition in this essay is both humanitarian and techno-progressive; after explaining the causes, I’ll propose attainable solutions that can elevate Sub-Saharan IQ and alleviate suffering.

The Sub-Saharan’s 800 million population is anticipated to rise to 1.5 billion by 2050, according to United Nations reports. It has the highest fertility rate in the world, and the lowest life expectancy. Nigeria will be primarily used in this essay as a source of dismal statistics, because it is the most populous nation in the region, with 160 million citizens.

DISEASE: Two recent studies - a 2010 report from the University of New Mexico and 2011 research from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada - have strongly correlated low national IQs with high rates of infectious disease. Their findings mirror what Jared Diamond claimed in his 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies - i.e., endemic diseases thwart human advancement.

 In my email correspondence with the biologists at the University of New Mexico, I was informed by the above study’s lead author Christopher Eppig that, “Based on our own research… a social policy aimed at elevating IQ would want to focus on reducing the infection rates and durations of the infections that are most costly to the brain, which we predict include malaria, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and intestinal worms.” 

Below I have outlined the damage caused by each of these four maladies in Sub-Saharan nations.

Malaria: Every year there are 225 million cases of malaria worldwide, with 90% occurring in the Sub-Saharan region, where 3,000 die everyday of the disease. Nigeria alone accounts for 25% of the planet’s malaria cases, with 30 million of it’s citizens annually contracting the scourge, leaving 300,000 dead.  The “brain insult” of malaria is horrendous. One international study defines cerebral malaria “as the presence of coma” leaving victims with neuro-physiological impairment to brain regions associated with planning, decision-making, self-awareness, and social sensitivity. Young Sub-Saharans are alarmingly vulnerable to drastic IQ reduction due to the malarial threat because, as University of New Mexico researchers state, “From an energetic standpoint, a developing human will have difficulty building a brain and fighting off infectious diseases at the same time, as both are very metabolically costly tasks.”  It’s crucial to realize here that developing nations, like the entire Sub-Saharan, have a far higher rate of mental retardation. A 2008 Rush University Medical College (Chicago) report observed, “Surveys in high-income countries show 3 to 5 per 1,000 with severe intellectual disability… Estimates from developing countries, however, have found prevalence rates from 5 to as much as 22 per 1,000.” Malaria is listed by the researchers as one of the “major contributing causes” in Third World mental retardation. remedy: Recently in Lagos, two mosquito nets were distributed to each family - a total of 4.1 million nets - in a fresh attempt to curb the sickening menace.

Diarrhea: The diarrhea rate in Nigeria is 18.8%, with 150,000 children dying annually of the disease. Diarrhea weakens the immune system and can quickly lead the sufferer to malnutrition, pneumonia, and a host of additional plagues. University of New Mexico researchers note that, “if exposed to diarrhoeal diseases during their first five years, individuals may experience lifelong detrimental effects to their brain development, and thus intelligence. Parasites may [also] negatively affect cognitive function in other ways, such as infecting the brain directly…” remedy: Nigeria launched a Hand-washing Campaign in 2008, plus a hygiene program to construct one million latrines. Studies indicate that hand-washing can reduce diarrhea by 30-47%.

Tuberculosis: Nigeria has the 4th highest TB rate in the world, with more than 400,000 cases per year. Tuberculosis - commonly associated with the lungs - has the potential to attack the brain, causing Tuberculosis Meningitis (TBM). Although this occurs in only 1% of TB cases in developed nations, reports indicate that TB leads to TBM in Nigeria between 7.8-14% of the time. The result? At least 20% of survivors are left with severe brain damage. Tuberculosis also creates a severe toll on the immune system, retarding the cognitive development of young children. remedy: TB “carriers” in Nigeria need to be identified early and treated regularly with antibiotics in services that extend throughout the nation, especially rural areas that have relied on herbal concoctions with a low rate of success.

Intestinal Worms (helminth infections): Nigerian schoolchildren are widely at risk of three intestinal parasites: roundworm, whipworm, and hookworm. One study revealed a 54.9% infection rate in urban public schools, 63.5% infection in rural public schools, and 28.4% in private schools. Intestinal worms have been associated with reduced IQ in many studies; one estimate is that “the average IQ loss for children left untreated is 3.75 points per worm infection.” remedy:  Improved sanitation via clean water, soap, improved latrines, and elimination of garbage around schools. Plus, de-worming at a cost of only 50 cents per child.

VIOLENCE: Being subjected to violence, or witnessing violent activity, puts a traumatic burden on children that leads to cognitive decline.  How steep is the subtraction? A 2002 study from the Children’s Hospital of Michigan concludes that “a child experiencing both violence exposure and trauma-related distress… would be expected to have a 7.5-point decrement in IQ and a 9.8 decrement in reading achievement.” The Sub-Saharan region is catastrophically violent in numerous categories; I have listed only four below.

Civil Strife: Myriad bloodbaths have soaked the Sub-Saharan in the last thirty years, including recent and current conflicts in The Congo, Ivory Coast, and religious terrorism in Nigeria, plus past nightmares in Rwanda, Burundi, Biafra, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Liberia, Uganda, Central African Republic, and others. Is it accurate to define the entire region as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?  Perhaps.  A recent survey of Liberians revealed that 71% of those questioned had witnessed a beating, 47% witnessed a killing, and 33% witnessed the killing of a family member. How does a pervasive atmosphere of violence affect children’s cognition? A Stanford Hospital study suggests that, “children’s risk for learning and behavior problems… rises in correlation to their level of trauma exposure…. children experiencing four types of trauma were 30 times more likely to have behavior and learning problems than those not exposed to trauma.” remedy:  Political stability is needed, with dedicated administrators. Hopefully, they’re encouraged by the Mo Imbrahim Foundation that awards an annual $5 million prize to African leaders who demonstrate good governance.

Domestic Violence: A 2011 Harvard Medical report notes that “Witnessing domestic violence is a traumatic childhood experience associated with reduced IQ scores.” Unfortunately, wife beating is all-too-common in Sub-Saharan Africa. A recent Nigerian news report claims that, “More than 50 percent [of wives] say they have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their husbands.” Counter-intuitively,“more educated women (65%) are in this terrible situation as compared to their low income counterparts (55%).” Are the children watching? Another study says that 46% of Nigerian women reported being abused in the presence of their children. remedy:  A cultural sea-change that elevates women’s rights and prosecutes domestic abusers; a staggering 97.2% of Nigerian women say they are unwilling to report the abuse to Nigerian police.

Child Sexual Abuse: Multiple studies assert that children subjected to sexual abuse suffer parallel damage to their brain development. For example, a Yale University study has linked childhood sexual abuse to “long-term deficits in verbal short-term memory” - a result that resembles the damage observed in “patients with combat-related PTSD.” Is child sexual abuse common in the Sub-Saharan? The Lancet reports reports that 33% of girls and women in Swaziland claimed they were victimized by sexual violence before reaching the age of 18. In Nigeria, rape is reportedly on the increase, particularly child rape. A 2008 news article from Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria, claimed that, “The suspects are usually males between the ages of 45 and 70 while their victims are mostly girls of between three and 11 years.” The article notes that many rapes are never reported because “parents want to save the honor of their daughters and protect their families from embarrassment.” remedy:  Cultural change is needed, promoting the rights of children and prosecuting those who abuse them.

Female Genital Mutilation: Although FGM is a “traditional ritual,” it needs to also be regarded as a violent, traumatic episode that can likely damage the cognitive development of the victims, generally girls aged 4-12. The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, asserting that FGM has posed a “mental health risk” to 92 million African women. In the Sub-Saharan region, the following rates of FGM prevalence exist in the 15-49 age category, representing tens of millions of women and girls: Ivory Coast (36.4%), Gambia (78.3%), Guinea (95.6%), Liberia (58.2%), Nigeria (29.6%), Sierra Leone (94.0%), Guinea-Bissau (44.5%), and Senegal (28.2%).  I have written about FGM in greater detail at the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology website.  remedy: Outlawing FGM.

MALNUTRITION: Prior to the recent focus on infectious disease hampering IQ levels, the prevalent opinion in scholastic circles was that malnutrition was the brain’s primarily oppressor. On the website nextbigfuture, author Brian Wang asserts that “if everyone had optimal levels of micronutrients the IQ of over half the world would be increased by up to 20 IQ points.” The Sub-Saharan would be a primary beneficiary of improved nutrition, especially infants, children, and pregnant women. Below I’ve listed only two dietary ingredients needed for optimal brain development; additional nutrients that also need to be considered are zinc, calcium, folic acid, Vitamin A, and magnesium. I’ve also advocated breast-feeding, because the nutrition it provides has been frequently linked to higher IQ scores.

Iodine Deficiency: If a pregnant mother’s diet is low in element #53, her child’s IQ can be severely hampered. Cretinism is the worst result of iodine deficiency, with its shocking retardation of physical and mental development. A recent report indicates that every year 900,000 Nigerian children will suffer an IQ loss because their mothers didn’t ingest enough iodine during their pregnancy. How large of an IQ loss? The website micronutrient.org suggests “the loss of intellectual capacity by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points.” remedy: Add iodine to all salt distributed in the Sub-Saharan.

Iron Deficiency (anemia): An alarming 75.6% of Nigerian children are anemic, claims micronutrient.org.  This lack punishes developing brains. “Various tests of cognitive skills associate lack of iron during infancy and early childhood with significant levels of disadvantage, affecting IQ scores by as much as 5 to 7 points,” notes nextbigfuture.com. remedy: Food fortification, especially wheat flour and cereal.

Lack of Breastfeeding: Recent research by Oxford University and Essex University asserts that infants breastfed for just four weeks are granted a 3-point IQ boost. Many specialists advice breastfeeding for at least six months, because the fatty acids in the mother’s milk aids infant brain development. Unfortunately, breastfeeding rates in the Sub-Saharan are among the lowest in the world.  UNICEF calculates that only 31% of the region’s mothers breastfeed, a low figure compared to East and South Asia’s 43-44%. Breastfeeding is also more hygienic; bottle-feeding can infect newborns with diseases like diarrhea, especially in areas with contaminated water. remedy: Breastfeeding prevalence in the Sub-Saharan has made enormous strides in recent years, leaping up from a mere 24% in 1996. Continued education is needed.

POVERTY: The per capita income in Nigeria, for example, is a mere $191 annually. Numerous studies have indicated that growing up poor causes severe damages to one’s ability to achieve full cognitive potential. For example, wealthier parents can provide “better educational resources and spend more time with their children” notes Elliot Tucker Drob, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Another study, by Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg, determined that “chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement.”  It noted that poor children tended to go to “ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.” The result of the subpar environment was that “hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains…”  A specific test carried out with teenagers revealed that those in poverty had a weaker working memory than teens that were well-off. (Working memory is a reliable indicator reading. Language and problem-solving ability)

POLLUTION: Numerous elements and molecular compounds are severely debilitating to human brain development. I’ve listed two dangers below; additional chemicals that cause harm in the Sub-Saharan are cadmium, manganese, petroleum hydrocarbons, mercury, and others. Water pollution and soil contamination are merit attention.

Lead Poisoning: The brain-toxic 82nd element is pervasive throughout the Sub-Sahara. Leaded gasoline wasn’t phased out until 2005 with settling fumes caking the soil, and subsequently, the agricultural produce. Illegal mining operations in northern Nigeria recently used lead to refine gold ore, horrendously contaminating both the ground and the water. The NGO “Doctors Without Borders” discovered in 2010 that 90% of the children under 5 in the state of Zamfara, Nigeria (population 3.6 million) had lead poisoning. In Kabwe, Zambia, lead concentrates in children arealso 5-19 times the permissible USA EPA level. Researchers also recently discovered that “96% of the consumer paints available in Nigeria contained higher than the recommended levels of lead.” The effect of lead on IQ varies in research reports, but a 2001 study, from School of Public Health University at Albany Rensselaer (New York) estimated that lead exposure in children caused a “permanent loss of IQ of approximately 5 to 7 IQ points.” remedy: The World Bank and other organizations have allocated funds for massive clean-up operations.

Air Pollution (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons): Lagos - with its 12 million residents - has severe air pollution, largely caused by auto fumes and burning garbage. The Nigerian city does not have the worst air in the Sub-Saharan, however, that unfortunate honor goes to Gaberone, Botswana, which was voted 7th Worst in the World in a recent Time magazine survey. Research in Krakow, Poland and New York City  claims that air pollution exposure before birth lowers IQ by 4 points, because smog harms the developing brain. remedy: Sub-Saharan cities need energy-efficient public rail systems, and vehicles and industry need stricter emissions controls.

ILLITERACY: In the Sub-Saharan, a mind-boggling 58% of the population is illiterate. Benin is the worst with 82.4% illiteracy; only 11.9% of its women can read and write. In Nigeria, nine nine million kids don’t go to school, instead they just “roam the streets.” Illiterate children don’t take the standard “Alpha” IQ test, instead, they tackle the non-verbal Revised Beta Examination.  Barely literate children are at an extreme disadvantage with the language-based Alpha. remedy: Strides are being made. Emphasis needs to be placed on getting more girls to attend school (i.e., changing cultural attitudes) and in encouraging students to attend secondary schools.

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GENETICS - Adding to the multiple environmental factors listed above are at least two genetic circumstances that damage IQ. Both problems could be alleviated with improved social, educational, and health policies. The two genetic factors are sickle-cell disease and cousin marriage.

The Sub-Saharan has the highest prevalence in the world in sickle-cell disease, with up to 2% of all children born with the genetic blood disorder. A 2011 Emma Children’s Hospital study at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam discovered that children with sickle-cell disease were at-risk for lower intelligence and executive dysfunction, with possible deficits in visual-spatial working memory, attention, and planning.  The impact was significant: “More than one in three children with SDC had a full-scale IQ below 75.”

Cousin marriage, known as “consanguinity,” is prevalent in many Sub-Saharan groups.  In Nigeria it is practiced by the 18 million members of the Hausa tribe, preferentially in marrying patrilateral parallel cousins. The custom is also common among the Yoruba.  Cousin marriage increases the risk of birth defects, due to sharing of the genes. In 1993, an Aligarh Muslim University report from India study showed an IQ drop of 11.2 points (from 99.6 to 88.4) in the offspring of cousin marriages.

Summary: The tragic liabilities listed above have created a climate so vicious to brain development it’s amazing the tormented Sub-Saharan IQs aren’t even farther behind the 3-digit East Asians and high-90’s Westerners.  Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa is presently experiencing an economic boom - it’s expected to grow 5.25% in 2011, with a 5.75% forecast in 2012, according to a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sub-Saharan’s financial future is aided by the region’s enormous mineral wealth and China’s lavish recent investment.  Perhaps effervescent confidence can also boost the region; a 2011 Gallup poll proclaimed Nigerians the world’s happiest and most optimist people.

Regarding the IQ gap, my hope is that charitable developed nations and NGOS will continue to donate.  Commendable, among many, are the Voss Foundation of Norway that works to guarantee access to clean water in the Sub-Saharan, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has helped decrease malaria deaths in the region by 20% since 2000.

Addressing the systemic problems I’ve noted in my essay is imperative in fixing the stunted abilities of the region. Truth is, there’s reason for optimism – the brain is marvelously “plastic” and IQ is enormously malleable.  Children damaged by malnutrition, pollutions, and other grim factors can swiftly improve.

Techno-progressive solutions are also critical now - a prime current hope is that Internet access and low-cost computers in the Sub-Saharan will accelerate the residents into an egalitarian future. This is rapidly happening: Nigeria’s Internet connectivity tripled from 2000-2008, leaping from 8 to 24 million, according to Accender Africa.

Another interesting “transhumanist” advance is Nigeria’s recent development of it’s own pharmaceutical “smart drug” - called Cognitol. The pill is a clinically proven, 5mg vinpocetine tablet that can improve information storage, memory and IQ.  Additionally, there are other cognitive enhancement therapies that provide enormous benefits for those with stunted abilities, benefits that can enable them to rapidly close the gap between themselves and luckier individuals who received optimal nutrition and environments. In Jamais Cascio’s recent essay in The Atlantic he notes that intelligence is increasing and will continue to increase globally, aided by “social tools”, “individualized systems that augment our capacity for planning and foresight”, “drugs… exocortical technology”, and “stand-alone artificial mind[s].”

With correct future policies and neuro-technology, Sub-Saharans can be equal to all, by every material and mental measure.

For additional information on factors that damage the brain’s thinking ability, you can peruse the essay, “Brain Damage: 87 factors that stupefy intelligence”.

Essays on IQ, Brain Health, etc.

Why is the IQ of Ashekenazi Jews so High? 20 Possible Explanations

Brain Damage - 87 Ways to Stupefy Intelligence

Six Brain-Damage Scourges that can Cripple IQ in SubSaharan Africa

Your Brain Could Have Been So Much Brighter

“Smart Drugs” Can Give You a Fresh, Sharp Brain

Nudism is Excellent for Your Brain

Meditation Boosts the Brain



Comments:

I think your commendation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation must come with the caveat that they are major backers and pushers of the “circumcision prevents AIDS” campaign which is currently mutilating thousands of boys and men in sub saharan africa.

By Chris Lacy on Jan 29, 2013 at 10:27am

Chris, according to your philosophy circumcision is mutilation, that “caveat” is probably based on scientific research that may support circumcision (Bill Gates isn’t actually the least scientific guy), especially in a part of the world where STDs such as AIDS is such a huge problem.  Unlike FGM, circumcision actually has some medical benefits done properly, I don’t care for or miss my foreskin that was cut off when I was an infant and why would I?

Anyway, I couldn’t agree more that conflict definitely affects memory and with that, IQ, in a negative manner.  Numerous studies have shown that poverty really will eat up your thoughts, leaving you to think about nothing else but your situation.  It’s a sad reality, though, that due to the Western consumerist lifestyle, our corresponding actions probably are the cause of the suffering that goes on in Africa.  But hopefully with that new drug, there’s hope for people who were impoverished to regain some mental capacity!  Science is truly a wonderful thing!

By CftxP on Mar 14, 2013 at 12:22am


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