Week 2: The Political Economy of disease in Africa

The readings this week provide insight into the efforts to combat the outbreak and spread of disease in Africa, in particular HIV/AIDS and the Ebola virus. The articles by Abramowitz and Saez discuss the role of anthropology in understanding the spread of disease as well as the local perception of those infected and the reaction to disease control methods. They discuss how primary disease control methods are insufficient as they focus solely on technical aspects in terms of treatment and containment. These methods are demonstrated to be inadequate as they cannot address the fear that disease can cause nor can they engage with cultural practices, lack of education and superstition. For example, as Saez discusses, it is important for family people to have physical contact with their deceased loved one as a form of respect. The failure to understand and consider cultural practices is a clear obstruction to containment and treatment measures, which is how blank and blank make their case for the involvement of Anthropologists in the treatment of widespread disease.

The issues discussed by blank and blank can be observed in the Ebola war: Nurses of Gulu. The case of Ebola in Uganda was difficult to contain and treat as they were inadequate resources to address the issue. To make the situation more difficult was the hostility projected towards nurses working Ebola patients as fear of infection prompted residents of Gulu to shun the nurses. This presents challenges to containment that go beyond sufficient resources to treat disease as those at risk of infection are unwilling to cooperate with health officials. This trend can be demonstrated in the more recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus in Liberia. In August of 2014 an emergency health clinic in the slum of Westpoint was overrun and looted by a mob that was upset about the proximity of the clinic to the village. Health aid workers and police were chased off and Ebola patients sent home. The attitude towards foreign aid workers obstructs the treatment efforts and risks further exposure of the virus to greater numbers of individuals.

Burchardt et al. also discuss the role of religious organizations in the containment and treatment of disease. The role of Christian and Muslim organisation from individual organisations to broader based NGO’s are identified as potential actors for reducing the spread for disease. Religious movements such as the Neo-Pentecostal have had a positive impact upon the understating of the transmission of AIDS. In examining religious and spiritual attitudes towards disease hat affect behavior and transmission, perhaps the authors focus too exclusively upon Christianity and Islam. There are many groups and communities that adhere to more traditional forms of spirituality that must be considered as a venue for either the containment or spread of disease. As Abramowitz and Saez discuss, perhaps anthropologists could be employed to understand the relationship between traditional spirituality and the spread of disease? As Burchardt et al. mention witchcraft was once an important means of understanding and attempted treatment of disease.


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