Ebola Virus in West Africa

The ebola virus has become a major problem in Africa recently, although the virus has been around for quite some time. West Africa is currently facing its worst outbreak of the ebols virus known in history. The World Health Organization reported over 1,000 deaths due to the ebola virus. According to a New York Times article, Dr. Margaret F. C. Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, told a news conference at its Geneva headquarters, “This is the largest, most severe, most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of the disease.”

The ebola virus causes bleeding inside and outside of the body, damages the immune system and organs causing blood-clotting cells to decrease leading to excessive bleeding. Mosg of the time the ebola virus is fatal. The origin of ebola virus started from animals like monkeys, chimps, and fruit batd and were passed to human beings because the virus is highly contagious. Ebola virus is spread between countries through traveling, if you come in contact with an infected person it could be spread, also through needles and surfaces, bodily fluids and skin contact. The ebola has no current cure and people who are found to be infected with this virus are put in isolation away from others.

The ebola virus has become politcial and social because it is spreading to other coubtries from people who visit Africa, it has come to the United States especially through travel as I stated before. Many officials here in the United States are informing and warning people to keep an outbreak from happening in the United States.

“Understanding local customs — and fears — can go a long way in getting communities to cooperate with international health care workers,” says Barry Hewlett, a medical anthropologist at Washington State University. He also said that their mission as anthropologist was to help health care workers and doctors understand the perception of the disease from a local population which will help in aiding and keeping the outbreaks under more control.


Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. April 2, 2014. Accessed August 8, 2014.

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

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Colleen Drabek says:

    Anthropologists used many specific theories and methods when dealing with the Ebola outbreak in Africa. For example, they were culturally sensitive. It was stated in the article that when people die quickly, sorcery is usually seen as the culprit. People in these regions don’t necessarily understand germ theory and that Ebola is highly contagious. This is okay, but doctors must therefore take a different approach when dealing with the patients and their families.
    The doctors definitely helped the people of Africa better understand this severe disease and also helped to ease the tensions between cultures. Because of its contagiousness, victims were usually quickly buried without the families being notified. This led to families beginning to distrust the foreign workers and therefore avoiding treatment when they became sick. Anthropologists stepped in to help solve this problem by including the families in the funerals and also adding transparent tarps so the victims and the families could communicate. While the doctors did not force germ theory on the Africans, they helped to bring the people together which indeed helped to aid the treatment of their loved ones. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how one became sick: whether it be because of a microorganism or a bad spirit— the important this is that the patient is cared for to the best of the doctor’s ability.

  2. Victoria Heilmann says:

    The anthropologists in your post’s link actually used various methods in order to try to help the outbreak of Ebola in Africa. They had to find the issues that the African people were having regarding the Ebola outbreak. They found that the African people did not understand how contagious the disease was and needed to be educated on it because they thought it was solely due to evil witchcraft or sorcery especially when people were dying very quickly. There was also an extremely big problem with distrust of the people trying to educate them on the Ebola. People who died of it were being buried without a proper burial and funeral. Meanwhile, the people had the idea of contagious disease and germ theory being pushed on them so they were resistant. Once a new approach was taken, the Ebola outbreak was much better combatted. With an anthropological viewpoint, they were able to educate the African people while still taking into consideration their cultural views and beliefs. They were also able to tell more families about the deaths of their loved ones and provide an actual funeral for them and have them there when the deceased is actually buried. These were the ways the anthropologists tried to help to Ebola outbreak in Africa in a more effective way.

  3. Mohkam Singh says:

    The anthropologist in this article explored various theories and methods in an effort to explore the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. One anthropological approach that was used was the ethnomedical approach. In the article, it states that sorcery was blamed for much of the death associated with Ebola. The natives did not realize how infectious the disease was. At the same time, they were a little bit reserved in learning about prevention of the disease. The people saw Ebola as an evil spirit that killed those who did not honor the gods properly. Isolation units were breached so loved ones could see the sick. At the same time, healthcare professionals were targeted as not being respectful of the families or traditions of the effected people. This made educating the population that much harder. For these reasons, applying an anthropological view was very important. The anthropologist was able to understand the culture and help the doctors and other healthcare professional provide the best possible care without disturbing any sentiments within the people. From the article, it says that understanding local customs and fears can go a long way in treating infected individuals. Teaching the Ebola victims about how contagious the disease was and that they were targeted for health reasons was important.

  4. sarah rousakis says:

    In the article “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team,” anthropologists worked with physicians and acted as a mediator, educator etc. to the people of Uganda during the Ebola outbreak. The people of Uganda did not trust the physicians; they noted that every time one of their loved ones entered an isolation unit, they never came out. They didn’t believe that the physicians were actually trying to heal their loved ones. Because of the language barrier and lack of education, the people of Uganda were not going to physicians when they were sick, which could increase the spread of disease. The anthropologists were able to come in and understand the customs and traditions of the people and effectively communicate with them and gain their trust. The people of Uganda simply wanted to be respected and have the bodies of their loved ones respected. Once they understood why the physicians were doing what they were doing, they were able to trust the physicians and allow the physicians to treat them and their loved ones. The anthropologists were able to educate the people of Uganda on how serious and dangerous the disease was in order to help stop the spread of infection. Applying anthropology contributed to a better understanding of this particular health problem because it allowed everyone to be on the same page and communicate effectively so that the sick could be treated.

  5. saarine3 says:

    I think your example is a very good choice in that its so recent and applies perfectly with the topic. This first think i noticed when I read his article was how he interacted with the locals. He didn’t think of them as lesser for spreading this disease. He went in with the mentality of trying to figure out why Ebola was spreading so fast and the first think he did was start to understand their costumes and relationships with disease. He finds out that most of the people there really don’t understand the danger of a virus or that they even knew what viruses were a thing. So the people were doing their normal funeral rights on the infected diseased. Meaning they were interacting with the bodies and then themselves catching the virus. They used this knowledge to know how to fight the spread. They started informing people and teaching them in detail the danger of disease and disease prevention basics. They provided aid to the affected families. The Anthropologists also allowed the affected to communicate with their loved ones via clear plastic dividers as where before they were afraid of the western medicine. They believed beforehand that there westerners were the ones causing the problems and diseases, but after anthropologists stepped in there was a trust that formed between the two parties.

  6. Nia Franklin says:

    The anthropologist from this article worked as a mediator to compromise with both sides being affected in this situation. The people of Uganda were very untrusting of physicians because they were not taking into consideration their morals and beliefs. Things like burials of the decease would occur without notifying the families and the families not being able to see their sick love one while in isolation. The natives were doing things such as touching the body before burial which could expose them to the disease. They were uneducated about the virus. The Ebola virus was even thought to be sorcery by the natives. People who were sick were also not going to physicians to be treated because of the culture barrier and trust issue which was spreading the disease even further. With the help of the anthropologist health care was still able to be provided to the people of Uganda without disturbing their culture and beliefs. Things were done to compromise with both sides. Things like see through tarps being placed so the families could still see their sick love ones and including the families in the burial ceremony. Physicians were able to prevent some source of the spread of the virus and the natives were able to stay close to their love ones during a difficult time.

  7. Ashley Start says:

    Applying anthropology contributed to a better understanding of the Ebola virus in Africa. Applied anthropology lead to an understanding of Ebola and how it has so severely affected countries in Africa and applied anthropology can also help to determine a solution for ceasing the severe spread of the Ebola virus and solutions for adequately treating and curing the Ebola virus. Anthropology can also determine a good solution for getting the proper treatment for Ebola to the areas that are most severely affected and need it the most and also how the treatment can lead to stopping the spread of Ebola not only in Africa, but also to other continents in the world and infecting other people who would not otherwise be affected by Ebola. Ceasing the spread of Ebola is a very crucial topic to find a solution to, not only just figuring out how to best treat sufferers of the virus. Understanding people’s beliefs and practices based on their culture is also crucial to understanding how to effectively treat the virus, which can be understood through applied anthropology. Applied anthropology is a very important tool in understanding how to best treat viruses in others and also take their cultural differences into consideration.

  8. Natasha Mehta says:

    I am really glad you picked this article, because I was very close to picking it as well and wanted to read it! I’d say the anthropologists in the article used their knowledge of cultural ecological methods. As stated in the week 2 lecture, cultural ecology examines how cultural beliefs and practices influence the ecological relationship between humans and diseases. Because these anthropologists have a better understanding of the local culture in West Africa, they are able to communicate more effectively with the local people than other health care professionals and medical staff. It saddens me to read that the medical staff would sometimes not even tell the families of the people who died that they had died, even though it was a necessary procedure to keep the spread of the disease under control. As stated in the article, many of the local people were angry that they were not being informed by the workers in the isolation unit, who would take their loved ones and never return them. I can completely understand why they would have these feelings; I would definitely be very scared if I didn’t know what was going on. Having the anthropologists there helped tremendously, because it led to the tarps surrounding the isolation unit to be put down so family members could see their loved ones, as well as telling the workers to attend people’s funerals as a sign of respect. I believe that is extremely important, and they helped a lot in this situation.

  9. Widad Nasser says:

    Many methods were used to try to help the outbreak of the Ebola virus. It was found that the African people were not educated on how contagious the disease was. Instead, they thought that the reason for the deaths was because of witchcraft or sorcery. Because of the cultural barrier, the Africans did not trust the people educating about this outbreak. They were burying the victims without a proper burial and did not inform their families of their deaths. The Africans began to refuse treatment. An Anthropological approach was necessary to help prevent the Ebola virus from spreading and killing more of the African people. Anthropologists intervened and included the families in the burials and also added transparent traps so that the victims of the Ebola virus and their families can communicate. They also educated the African people on the seriousness of the disease in order to stop the spread of the infections. Anthropologists were able to understand the culture and customs of the African people and provide assistance in preventing the outbreak of the Ebola virus. With the help of the anthropologists, the physicians were able to provide the proper treatment to the victims and the African people’s culture and beliefs were respected.

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