Ebola in Africa

Ebola is a virus that spreads through the transmission of bodily fluids from person to person.  At it’s deadliest, Ebola has been known to kill up to 90% of those it infects.  The current strain which is spreading throughout western africa is killing about 60%.  It is believed that the current strain originated in bat guano and somehow infected a human.  It infected it’s first victims in rural areas and has since moved into more urban ones.  The CDC in Atlanta recently declared this outbreak an “international emergency”, meaning it will divert all resources to solving this problem.  However, there are many obstacles.  Healthcare professionals have been infected, some have died, and all are at least a little scared to deal with this disease.  Some workers in the afflicted countries have refused to see patients out of fear of contracting the virus themselves.  Other cultural issues have discouraged patients from seeing doctors out of mistrust.  I have read stories of people who are afraid that western doctors will try to harvest their organs.  I have read some about folks who dont recognize the severity of the disease.  I have also read about how some people think that western doctors treat africans like lab rats and use experimental treatments on them.  These factors prevent the infected from getting the help they need.

The author of this article talks a lot about just how vast the region of the outbreak actually is and the resources that are required to contain the area are spread quite thin.  He also touches on just how disturbing of an experience this can be for family members and that the horror of this illness could lead to the distrust of doctors. “A loved one goes into some green tent, with people in space suits that don’t look like Africans, and never comes out again; that is an environment that breeds a lot of suspicion and stories that are very counterproductive to the efforts of public health.”  This fear could cause more and more families to refuse treatment and risk many more infections.


Schwartz, Daniel.  “Ebola outbreak: it’s not the virus but Africa that’s changed”.  CBC.  Aug 08, 2014.  Viewed Aug 08, 2014

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  1. Emily Tassoni says:

    Schwartz uses the Ecological approach when studying Ebola. He takes into account the geographical distribution of the disease and how the amount of resources are stretched thin over the wide area that the outbreak has occurred. He also looks at the way the local people view the health professionals who have come to help them. Most rural West Africans have never seen the tools and technology used by the health professionals and this lack of understanding leads to fear and anger in the local people. They describe the sterilized suits used to protect the health professionals as “space suits”, and don’t understand why they never get to see their loved ones again. There are also a myriad of rumors that circulate through the local populations that the western doctors are harvesting the Africans’ organs or using them for testing. In this situation applying anthropology can help both the locals and the health professionals. If an anthropologist can determine the origins of the locals’ fears and address them in a way they understand, the locals will not be afraid to approach the doctors and other health professionals for treatment. The health professionals can benefit from an anthropologist because the anthropologist can teach them about the local culture and show them the most effective and culturally respecting ways of treatment. For example, in the article by Linda Poon that we read for class, the interviewed medical anthropologist explains that if the doctors would allow the families of the dying/dead see them and escort them to be buried, there would be much less hostility and misunderstanding of the health professionals by the locals.

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