Week 2 The Political Economy of Disease in Africa

It is evident to see that not only is the relationship between health care workers, public health experts and anthropologists lacking, but a thorough understanding and respect between professions is missing as well. Particularly, this is aimed towards anthropologists, for many workers in the health sector do not comprehend what it is exactly they “do”, how they can contribute to a health epidemic like Ebola and their professional role in relation to themselves. The articles concerning Ebola raise fair points when discussing the strong impact anthropologists can have in this area. It is clear there is a lack of “call” on them, even in the face of such a critical epidemic. Anthropologists are needed in order to connect the medical team to the public they are serving and the associated sick individuals. This is because health care practitioners are trained in exactly that: health care. There is a lack of teaching on global cultural norms, history and effective ways to handle the public in the face of an epidemic such as this. Therefore, anthropologists can be seen as catalysts, connecting health care and culture in an efficient way to decrease the onset of health issues. When anthropologists are not involved, results are less effective for example, in the beginning of Ebola, doctors had trouble convincing families to bring their sick relatives to the clinics for aid. This is because there was a lack of understanding between the two cultures. Anthropologists intervene, causing communication between the two populations to be clearer and smoother. Since they are experts on local traditions, history and behaviour, they can explain to health care workers how these social aspects work and relate to the transmission of the virus, an area of high importance. Since Ebola is transmitted through touch, anthropologists can teach health care workers how individuals interact daily, namely when these points of physical touch can occur. Anthropologists can also stress the importance of funeral traditions, understanding that some customs may need to change to avoid physical contact with the infected individual and teaching health care workers to respect these traditions, be patient for changes to take place and not assume the population is not educated. Lastly, anthropologists can help heath care workers understand that infected individuals and their relatives may be scared of them and their associated medicine. Traditional medicine plays a strong role in African countries, thus claiming to treat Ebola in a new, foreign way may not be appealing at first. In general, it can be seen that anthropologists are highly needed for health epidemics, including Ebola and AIDS/HIV because they build the bridge of communication between the two populations.

Questions: Does ethnocentrism play a role for health care workers in foreign countries attending to health epidemics? If so, does this prevent more productive health care? How do anthropologists address this issue in order to increase communication and treatment? What is the role of preventative medicine for Ebola and how much research is being devoted to this area? Although research is strongly needed for treatment of such a disease, should there not be a lot of focus on preventative measures and medicine as well for long-term results?

 

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