Via Salon.com: America’s shameful ebola ignorance: The troubling truth about our attitude toward the virus. Excerpt:
The suspicions with which many people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona regard Western interventions make sense. Healthcare workers are particularly hard-hit by Ebola, and workers and other patients who hadn’t been infected can return home not knowing they now carry the disease, transmitting the virus to their families and communities.
International relief organizations in these countries set up emergency treatment that will be taken down when the immediate threat is over. But family sticks around forever. Refraining from leaving sick relatives in hospitals (that typically utilize isolation as the sole means of containing the Ebola virus) can be a pragmatic and sensible choice to rely on the kinship and community networks that have kept people alive in the past.
From my perch as a medical sociologist, the claim that mobs attacking treatment centers are panicking reveals “troubling truths“ regarding the Western track record of medical experiments and geopolitical ambitions in Africa. Distrust of Western medicine may have less to do with superstition than with history: forced sterilizations in Peru; the intentional infection of Guatemalans with gonorrhea and syphilis; marketing campaigns urging mothers in countries lacking safe water supplies to replace breastfeeding with infant formula so that women could work in western-owned factories; the sale in Africa of pharmaceuticals that passed their expiration date for sale in the West; the harvesting of organs in India for transplants to wealthy foreigners.
In sub-Saharan Africa, outbreaks of new diseases such as Ebola (first identified in 1976) echo the spread of industrialization, urbanization, unprecedented militarization (funded by western countries), deforestation and the destruction of eco-systems that have forced communities to expand their search for food into territories that traditionally were not used for that purpose.
In reports in the English-language press, however, there is little consideration of the political and economic structural forces that gave rise to the emergence and spread of Ebola. Rather, as Jared Jones writes, “African ‘Otherness’ overpowers the possibility of a non-cultural causality in the dominant discourse, and other factors are left unexamined as potentially causal or exacerbating.”
Attention to sorcery rather than the inequalities of globalization obscures the fact that the biggest leaps in life expectancy in the U.S. and Europe came about because of massive government-funded public health measures — sewage systems and clean water supplies – not because we gave up our religious beliefs.
The articles I read in the English-language press decry the absence of functioning healthcare infrastructures in the African nations hit by the Ebola virus. But I am not convinced that the United States would do much better.
There are a great many things that western medical institutions and personnel do extraordinarily well. We have sophisticated surgical technology and an advanced pharmacopeia of medicines to treat hundreds of diseases. But the bulk of our medical resources go towards curing rather than prevention.
What we do dedicate to prevention tends to be limited to proximate factors such as germs and personal behaviors such as smoking that make individuals sick. We also divert resources into campaigns for procedures such as mammograms which detect but do not prevent disease. We pay less attention to poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and, yes, globalization, as root causes of sickness.