W5: Infectious Diseases

This week we spent a great deal answering the question what inequalities in political, economic, or social power lead to better or worse outcomes for particular groups of people. One answer to this question is “structural violence”. Structural violence is the violence that is created within a social structure that may cause individuals harm by not meeting their basic needs. For example, many “tropical” diseases harm the poor; the groups at risk for these diseases are typically bounded more by socioeconomic status than by latitude. Another example, in Haiti, patients with malaria are almost exclusively those living in poverty. It is also very unfortunate that certain populations have long been affected by these disorders, and that the disease is considered new or emerging because they have come to affect more “visible”, or more “valuable” persons (Farmer, 2006). We have learned in past lectures that individuals that have a low socioeconomic status have a greater percentage of mental illness compared to individuals with a high socioeconomic status.  We have now learned that your socioeconomic status also greatly affects your physiological and biological health. Surgeon general David Satcher, wrote on the emerging of infectious diseases, reminds us that “the health of the individual is best ensured by maintaining or improving the health of the entire community”. But we have to ask ourselves what is the entire community? (Farmer, 2006).

There is also great concern with the way that local people are treated. Local people feel exploited or ignored by the international biomedical teams. Euro-Americans would move up and down the river in fast boats, stopping only to take blood or fecal samples. The Euro-Americans did not ask or possibly care about their well-being and did not provide the local people what they were doing or the results that they were finding. The Bakola termed the disease “Ebola” as Ezanga, which means that the disease is a human-like spirit that cause illness in people who accumulate and do not share. People working in mines were suspected of being energized by Ezanga. Understanding culture is essential because it impacts how we think and feel. Emotions are attached to cultural practices (PDF 5.1). We need to understand that these individuals have completely different mindsets and beliefs than we may have and we need to work on bettering our medical services that we provide to individuals around the world.

It was also mentioned in the film that Africa’s communities are in poor conditions because of the lack of access to health care services. Ebola centers are not meeting the expectations that is needed for patients to live (Film 5.1). Better understanding cultural needs and providing health care services to everyone will greatly benefit individuals. Another film that I found mentions that cultural traditions are making the Ebola outbreak worse but they are failing to see through their lens and therefore are failing to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Experts within the biomedical system and anthropologists need to come up with ways to address these issues.

Farmer, Paul. “Structural Violence and Clinical Medicine.” PLOS Medicine:. 2006. Accessed August 05, 2016.

Euronews. Cultural traditions making deadly Ebola outbreak worse, experts say”. Filmed [July 2014]. Youtube video, 1:11. Posted [July 2014]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlQC-de8oOM

One thought on “W5: Infectious Diseases

  1. You brought up a lot of very good points throughout your post! The one that stuck out to me the most was when you mentioned that lack of understanding that Western doctors had of the cultures in West Africa. While most people are focused only on finding out who does or does not have the disease by collecting many different biological samples, and then determining the proper medical care (quarantine, medicine, etc) that needs to be given, no one really concerns themselves with learning about the cultures and practices of the effected population of people.
    Understanding these aspects of culture and the accompanying practices would, in my opinion, allow for better and more effective healthcare in situations such as the Ebola outbreak. It would allow doctors to take into consideration the different cultural practices and ceremonies that may be putting people at greater risk of contracting the disease, due to be contacting with infected individuals (funerals) or travelling to areas that have been hit very hard by the disease. Having this knowledge would also help to decrease the communication barrier between the doctors and the affected people because better conversation could occur about what the disease is doing and how it is spreading. Conversation would allow people all the way around to be armed with more information. This way, preventative measures could be put into place along with reactive measures that are focused on fighting the disease.

Leave a Reply