Week 2: The Political Economy of Disease in Africa: AIDS to Ebola

The article, The politics and anti-politics of social movements: religion and HIV/AIDS in Africa discusses how religion plays a role in the HIV/AIDS pandemic focusing on the idea of religious mobilization. Burchardt et al., mention how global norms and institutions have an influence on the how the mobilization surrounding HIV/AIDS occurs. Religious institutions and movements have had a significant role in responses to the pandemic, allowing individuals to try and make sense of the disease.

In  Notes from Case Zero: Anthropology in the time of Ebola, the authors raise the idea that there is a failure of biosecurity methods, as there is a knowledge gap towards biomedical practices. This is a gap in which anthropologists could assists in closing. The article mentions how anthropologists tested for situations where Ebola can be transmitted, specifically, which animal was the transmitter of the virus. In the case, it was bats. The anthropologists furthered their study by examining human-bat relations. The article highlights how ethnographic work can help diminish some of the stereotypes or stories that put the blame of the outbreak on the local populations.

The final article, Ten Things that Anthropologists Can Do to Fight the West African Ebola Epidemic discusses how anthropologists are needed as resources to understand and establish new ways to confront the Ebola crisis. Abramowitz lists ten actions that anthropologists could take such as observing and interpreting local viewpoints on the response to the Ebola epidemic. I believe that in order to make sense of the local beliefs and behaviours, anthropologists need to be on the scene and integrate into communities to clasp a more meaningful understanding of the crisis.

Burchardt et al., discuss how religious organizations such as Christian and Muslim ones, have a role in containing the disease as well as treating it. The Neo-Pentecostal movement is an example of how religious movements have had an influential effect in the HIV/AIDS response by minimizing the transmission of the disease. Both Saez et al., and Abramowitz highlight how anthropologists can be assigned to examine traditional practices and the spread of Ebola. The article also mentions a conversation that a medical anthropologists had with Medicines Sans Frontiers offering to help, however their help was denied. Their help should not be ignored but rather anthropologists should be useful resources. Anthropologists could assist with the Ebola crisis by working alongside religious organizations to minimize the transmission of Ebola.

            It is concerning that they are not asking for more anthropologists to help during the crisis when many anthropologists are offering their help. I was unaware of the significant role that anthropologists could have during a crisis like Ebola. I believe that they should be present as they are familiar with the cultural barriers. Anthropologists would be able to help local populations grasp a better understanding of the disease and the ways that it is transmitted, and be able to diminish some of the existing stereotypes. It is evident that the biomedical approach is not stopping the spread of Ebola. Thus a new innovative approach that involves the assistance of anthropologists is needed. This approach would examine the disease from a sociocultural perspective allowing for a meaningful understanding of how the disease affects individual’s beliefs and their everyday activities. It would also assist in determining how the disease is transmitted through their actions.

Discussion Questions

1) If anthropologists would be beneficial on the scene during the Ebola response, why are more not sent to assist?

2) Do you think that religious institutions are as involved with the Ebola crisis as they are with the HIV/AIDS response?


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