Week two — The Political Economy of Disease in Africa: Aids to Ebola.

Moyosore Arewa

The readings this week all seem to propagate some of the shunned methods or approaches of disease control in Sub-Saharan Africa. The first article, The politics and anti-politics of social movements: religion and HIV/AIDS in Africa, as its title may suggest, discusses some of the relationships in Sub-Saharan Africa between religion and HIV. It conveys the fact that religion has a bigger role to play the onset of an epidemic than many may think — it has the ability to either stifle efforts at controlling the disease or mobilize people in seeking solutions. Hence, this article seeks to help us understand the dynamics of the intricate relationship between religion and HIV. The next two articles, unlike the first, focus on the recent Ebola outbreak; they both try to convince the reader of the importance of anthropologists, or of anthropological work, in the efforts to contain the disease.

The bridge between the three articles is that they both detract from the “traditional”and popular biomedical approaches to disease control. In suggesting that there may be more to HIV/AIDS control than the biomedical method, the first article inadvertently proclaims the same arguments as the other two articles, albeit in a more concrete, academic manner.

Important to note from all the readings is what should seem apparent, but often isn’t: even if many African settlings were not, as some academics refer it, “neo-patrimonial” and communitarian, it should still be quite conceivable to expect that the onset of diseases such as HIV and Ebola will affect more than just the physical health of people in the society. It goes beyond that into the social and cultural fabric of their lives. The example given in the second reading about the difficulty of getting locals to alter their traditional burial practices in favour of a foreign, but safer, one is a perfect illustration of this point. Another perfect illustration is how neo-pentecostal churches in Africa play an important role in how HIV is conceptualized by the community. Some of these churches stress, as the first article mentions, the importance of spirituality and moralism, which, as one would expect, makes discussions about HIV, a disease transmitted mainly through sexual intercourse, a little bit awkward.

Furthermore, although it is difficult to disagree with the “spirit” of the last two articles, it is equally difficult to consume them without reservations. That is, if at all one is to accept that there is a need for Anthropologists on the field, must these anthropologists come from America or other western countries? Is there a shortage of African anthropologists (or Africans who are capable of doing the work anthropologists claim they can do) in these ebola-stricken areas? Moreover, the articles both present their arguments in a way that suggests that none of the organizations involved in containing ebola have medical anthropologists on their staff. Perhaps this is not true (see, http://www.who.int/csr/don/2014_05_12_ebola/en/).

Some questions:

  • Would anthropologists interfere with efforts already being made?
  • Is it logical to assume that the costs — financial and otherwise — to send a large team of anthropologists would be too great to bare?

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