W5: “Social Violence” and How it Relates to Infectious Diseases

In 2014, there was a historically large Ebola outbreak that affected countries in West Africa.  These affected countries were Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, with the highest concentration of Ebola cases occurring in Sierra Leone (CDC, 2016).  According to the CDC this outbreak of Ebola has caused: 28,652 total cases (including “suspected, probable, and confirmed” cases), 15,261 cases confirmed via laboratory testing, and 11,325 deaths in total “as of April 13, 2016” (CDC, 2016).  Outbreaks such as this need to be curtailed and prevented in the future, especially since Ebola is dangerous enough to be classified by the government of the United States as “a potential biological weapon” (Hewlett, 2008).

In order to fight future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases that can run rampant and wipe out thousands of individuals, there are multiple things that need to be done.  One person with suggestions of how to prevent future out breaks, or handle them more efficiently if and once they occur, is Doctor Paul Farmer.  Dr. Farmer is a medical anthropologist and infectious disease doctor who suggests that there were three areas that were lacking in the African countries dealing with Ebola: “lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats” (Democracy Now, 2014).  These areas of lacking all contributed to what Dr. Farmer calls “structural violence”, which occurs when people are being placed in harm’s way and are being injured due to the organization of politics and economics within the world around us (Farmer, 1996, 1999).  In simple terms, this means that due to politics and economics, individuals who are sick do not have access to any form of healthcare which they so desperately need.

To prevent the swift movement of Ebola and the high death toll that occurred from happening again, individuals must have access to some form of a healthcare system.  Not having access to educated staff and staff not having access to proper stuff (equipment, quarantine areas) meant that infected individuals were afraid of seeking help, which in turn caused them to run and be exposed to many healthy people.  This caused the outbreak to rapidly grow.  To rectify this and fight against infectious diseases, which includes Ebola among others, vulnerable people need “staff, stuff and systems” (Democracy Now, 2014) to be put in place.  This would allow infected individuals to get the healthcare they so desperately need in infectious disease scenarios.  Having clinics set up with the capabilities of quarantining people, and having educated staff with access to serums that fight the disease and other medical equipment to help individuals overcome the disease is paramount.  People would then not simply be quarantined so they were unable to infect others, they would be quarantined in an area that allowed educated staff to treat them with serums that would combat the disease.

There are also risks of infectious diseases running rampant in refugee camps around the world.  With close quarters, lack of cleanliness, little space, and few resources, this is a recipe for disaster (Fadiman, 1997).  If an infectious disease were to occur in even a few individuals, there is the potential risk that the entire refugee camp could be wiped out due to lack of healthcare resources, the close quarters, and “lack of staff, stuff, and systems” (Democracy Now, 2014).


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.”  Last modified June 22, 2016.  https://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/

One thought on “W5: “Social Violence” and How it Relates to Infectious Diseases

  1. Hi Lucy,

    I like how you included specific statistics from the CDC on the recent Ebola outbreak. I think those numbers really help your argument and show just how deadly infectious diseases can be when the resources to fight the disease are not present. I don’t think people necessarily understand just how widespread the Ebola outbreak of West Africa was.

    When you think about all the resources that Americans, for instance, have for combating infectious diseases, such as Ebola, it is hard to understand why the affected countries of West Africa were unable to provide such resources for their ailing communities. This is where an understanding of Paul Farmer’s idea of “structural violence” is important. The limitation of “staff, stuff, and systems” in West Africa created an inability on the governments’ parts to provide necessary aid to areas affected by Ebola.

    We can learn quite a bit about how to treat future infectious disease outbreaks from the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. We cannot expect local communities to be capable of handling such infectious diseases and we cannot expect affected individuals to take proper precautions in preventing the spread of disease. This means that a large part of responsibility needs to be on the national governments, who have more access to the “staff, stuff, and systems” that are required to combat infectious diseases.

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