Ebola in West Africa

Ebola is a health problem that has been around for quite some time but recently has gained a large amount of attention in the United States. This extremely contagious disease has had outbreaks before, but has become more noteworthy due to its spread around the globe. The disease is thought to have likely started in Guinea and was ignored by officials and spread through the popular trade post. The disease currently has no cure and isolation is mandatory to help control the mass spread of the disease. The disease is not airborne but spread through transfer of fluids or touch. The disease has become political because of its spread to American citizens whom had been in Africa. The main concern for America is those people visiting Africa through mission trips and medical volunteering are interacting with people whom may be infected but not yet aware they have Ebola. There is also a governmental recognition that the disease could be used in warfare to infection American people and spread the disease quickly across the country. The World Health Organization also just recognized the Ebola outbreak as a health emergency. Although the disease has taken the lives of close to 1000 people already, aid is being given to those infected and they are isolated from others to avoid the further outbreak.

The NPR did a story on why anthropologist have joined the outbreak team and written by Linda Poon. Anthropologist, Barry Hewlett was recruited to help give insight to the disease and its containment, showing the importance of anthropology in the medical society. Barry also describes the scene in a couple doctors without borders locations where people were not bringing their loved ones in for help to see doctors. It took anthropologist to help the family members understand the disease as well as cope with the things going on around them. The disconnect between medical doctors trying to do their job and people not understanding what was happening was connected by anthropologist.

Cowell, Alan, and Nick Cumming-Bruce. “W.H.O. Declares Ebola in West Africa a Health Emergency.” New York Times, August 8, 2014.

Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Albert Tamayo says:

    I believe Barry Hewlett, the anthropologist involved with studying the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, used the experiential and applied anthropology theories the most. He studied the problem with the outbreak by asking people questions about how they perceive their illness and also what they tell others about their illness. These clearly show that he was using anthropological methods of questioning to gather evidence of the illness narrative of the people of Uganda. Secondly, he specifically studied the outbreak of Ebola within the people of Uganda to see why the disease was spreading so quickly. He found out that people did not trust the healthcare workers because they never saw the bodies, their loved ones would enter the quarantine zone and never exit, and families were often not even notified about the death of the infected because of the need to quickly dispose of the bodies. Since all of that anger and fear was directed at the healthcare workers, families stopped bringing infected loved ones to the doctors and the disease continued to spread. By allowing families to speak to their loved ones, bury them after they died, and encouraging medical professionals to attend funerals, the camp was able to once again gain the trust of the people, which led to the control of the disease.

    Applying anthropology clearly contributed to a better understanding of Ebola. Not only did the World Health Organization (WHO) openly spread the word of the methods of their success described above, but news organizations like NPR picked up the story and spread the word to classrooms like ours. Since we are key to the future success of anthropological endeavors, it could be argued that this was a highly effective way of spreading knowledge about the disease. Now we can use the information gleaned from these experiences with Ebola to tackle other problems in our society. Perhaps one day we can ask the questions necessary to understand poverty or the spread of HIV in Africa and successfully eliminate them from our planet.

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