The Key to Ending Structural Violence

Disease is an unavoidable aspect of life, we all get sick sometime or another. Sometimes it’s more serious and requires more rigid medical treatment. What if you weren’t given the option of medical treatment? What if you were just quarantined and not treated at all? This is a problem many people in Liberia, Lesotho, and other African countries affected by Ebola suffered.What is structural violence? According to Paul Farmer “Structural violence is one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harms way. The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people.” (Gabriel, 2016). What he means is that when a country is poor it suffers in terms of healthcare and many other aspects. Medical resources and knowledge are limited when an entire country lacks funding. This means medical staff don’t often have the understanding or means to keep a disease quarantined. This results in an epidemic, causing plenty of chaos on an already fragile healthcare system and many unnecessary deaths. Farmer believes that a disease like Ebola would never reach the same level of destruction here in the US, this is due to a strong healthcare system with funding, knowledge, and resources needed to prevent outbreak. (Farmer, 2006). A suggestion that Farmer makes is the idea that countries with stronger healthcare systems, funding and resources should support and establish a better healthcare system for impoverished countries.(Farmer,2006). Two doctors who went to Africa to try and assist with the Ebola outbreak were sent back to the US when they discovered they had contracted the disease. They were then immediately given an experimental drug which cured them both. (Farmer, 15:15-16:15). This caused a debate since they were both white, sent to one of the best hospitals in the US, and cured within a weeks’ time. Yet, hundreds of people in Africa were dying of the same disease. This is just another example of the cruel privilege structural violence provides citizens of developed countries. “After epidemic cholera emerged in Haiti in October 2010, the disease spread rapidly in a country devastated by an earthquake earlier that year, in a population with a high proportion of infant deaths, poor nutrition, and frequent infectious diseases such as HIV infection, tuberculosis, and malaria. Many nations, multinational agencies, and nongovernmental organizations rapidly mobilized to assist Haiti. ” (Tappero, 2011). This article really highlights the solution to fighting infectious disease outbreaks. When Haiti broke out with Cholera, other countries realized the need to send funds and assistance. This helped them to receive clean water, medical assistance, and other necessary resources. If more countries were involved we may be able to greatly reduce the amount of destruction caused by infectious disease outbreaks.

Gabriel, Cynthia. “Critical Medical Anthropological Theory.” ANP 370 Culture Health and Illness. N.p., 2015. Web. 4 Aug. 2016.
“Dr. Paul Farmer on African Ebola Outbreak: Growing Inequality in Global Healthcare at Root of Crisis.” Democracy Now! N.p., 22 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.
“Lessons Learned during Public Health Response to Cholera Epidemic in Haiti and the Dominican Republic – Volume 17, Number 11-November 2011 – Emerging Infectious Disease Journal – CDC.” Lessons Learned during Public Health Response to Cholera Epidemic in Haiti and the Dominican Republic – Volume 17, Number 11-November 2011 – Emerging Infectious Disease Journal – CDC. N.p., 2011. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.

2 thoughts on “The Key to Ending Structural Violence

  1. First off, I completely agree with your blog post. Your definition that you used from Dr. Farmer’s interview does an excellent job of describing and explaining structural violence. It is such a shame that people are dying when it would be relatively easy to gather the resources and help them, however I think if we were to dig deeper we would find that the cause of this might be (I don’t want to make any grand statements because I could be wrong) lingering attitudes left over from the colonization of parts of the world such as Africa and the Caribbean. Like you stated in your post, the outbreaks of these infectious diseases didn’t happen in the United States when it was white people with access to resources. I think that if we look at post colonial Rwanda for instance, we know how the colonial attitudes helped to create a power divide and a system of oppression that led to the Rwandan genocide, and infectious diseases could almost be a similar result. The systems of oppression left behind after the European countries left help to fuel the structural violence that you talked about. All in all great job, you made it very easy to understand and helped me to think about it in a way that I hadn’t previously.

  2. Hello Roopa,

    I really enjoyed your post because it did a great job of catching my attention in the first couple of lines. You portray the effects of structural violence in a way that anyone can relate to. It’s rather unfortunate that “lesser developed” countries go through situations such as the Ebola outbreak simply because a lack of funding or training. What’s worse is that these countries are sometimes given some form of social stigma along the lines of the population being disease ridden and dirty or being unmanageable or irresponsible, when the outbreaks are more biosocial than biological. Many people in these countries aren’t given the proper education to prevent the “emergence” of Ebola (or any other disease) and aren’t given “real” care, as Dr. Farmer mentions in the interview. These people are basically strong-armed into these quarantine camps where they have little to no control over their actions, let alone their health, and are forced to simply abide by whatever presence (military/police) is in control. Many times these people are scared and begin to panic, which leads to a whole bunch of other problems. If the money spent on policing the people was instead spent on “stuff, staff and systems”, I would argue that there would be better health outcomes. As Dr. Farmer mentions, it’s really not that expensive or difficult to set up solid healthcare systems, we would just rather waste the money on other things.


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