Annie Wilkinson tackles some of the issues with which health workers dealing with an Ebola outbreak have to contend.
As the worst Ebola epidemic on record shows no signs of abating in West Africa, fear and ignorance are increasingly said to be playing a role in its continued spread. Meanwhile, local practices such as the consumption of bushmeat and deforestation are the go-to explanations for the epidemic’s underlying causes. However, decades of anthropological research in the region by STEPS Centre and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) researchers, indicates not only that this picture is an over-simplification, but that disease control policies based on these ideas may be unhelpful.
Men dressed in protective gear bury a corpse infected with the Ebola virus
The latest news from West Africa is troubling: outreach and surveillance officers have been attacked, rumours circulate that the disease does not exist, that medical staff are harvesting organs and anyone going to hospital will not come out alive. Tear gas was reportedly used to disperse a crowd at Sierra Leone’s Kenema Government Hospital who were demanding the release of family members admitted to the Ebola treatment centre there. As many as 57 patients are reported “missing” in the country, either fleeing treatment centres or avoiding them altogether. This seriously hinders contact tracing and infection control efforts.
Both the Sierra Leonean and Liberian presidents have said anyone obstructing suspected Ebola patients from receiving official treatment will be punished. But these announcements are unlikely to have much effect, being disengaged from the reasons behind the community suspicion and the complexities of the socio-cultural context. Continue reading
The media reporting of the Ethiopian Famine in 1984-5 was an iconic news event. It is widely believed to have had an unprecedented impact, challenging perceptions of Africa and mobilising public opinion and philanthropic action in a dramatic new way. The contemporary international configuration of aid, media pressure, and official policy is still directly affected and sometimes distorted by what was – as this narrative aims to show – also an inaccurate and misleading story. Fiona Chesterton finds Suzanne Franks’ work to be a rich and worthwhile read.
Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of night on the plain outside Korem, it lights up a biblical famine, now in the 20th century. This place, say workers here, is the closest thing to hell on Earth.’
So began a BBC television news report broadcast nearly 30 years ago, and which begat millions of pounds in donations, the era of celebrity-fronted campaigning, a transformational growth of aid organisations, and much else besides. But it did not change – or feed – the world or have the impact on policy-makers as appeared at the time. That is the thrust of Reporting Disasters, a hard-headed analysis of this famous report by Michael Buerk from Ethiopia, and its consequences. The author, Suzanne Franks, Professor of Journalism at City University, is a former BBC Current affairs Producer and has published widely on international news coverage.
The book is certainly timely – as Britain’s spending on international aid is again very much a live issue – and its analysis is rather more sophisticated than some current political discourse -who would have thought that anyone could talk about “Bongo Bongo Land” in the summer of 2013? Continue reading
LSE’s Katherine Furman explores how ethics could have played a more prominent role in the management of the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.
The administration of the first doses of ZMapp, the experimental Ebola treatment, to two American healthcare workers and a Spanish priest has been met with understandable outrage. In the case of scarce medical resources, the method of distribution needs to be transparent. Given that over 1000 people have died in West Africa so far, this allocation reeks of racism.
On 12 August, the World Health Organisation(WHO) assembled a panel to assess two ethical questions in the context of the West African Ebola outbreak. Should experimental treatments be made available? If so, to whom? Predictably, and rightly, the first question was answered positively. When certain conditions are met, such as informed consent and confidentiality, experimental treatments should be made available. Unfortunately, the distributive question has not yet been addressed. Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General stated that “I don’t think that there could be any fair distribution of something which is available in such a small quantity.”
Medecins Sans Frontieres carry the corpse of person killed by Ebola AFP
Dr Kieny’s response is obviously incorrect. Ethical questions of allocation occur precisely in situations where resources are in short supply, and ethical tools are available for addressing cases such as these. As Dr Julian Savulescu argues, in his piece on ethics in Ebola treatment , there are at least three common approaches in moral philosophy for dealing with the distribution of scarce resources, and these might be brought to bear in the Ebola case. Continue reading
LSE’s Jonah Lipton is currently living in Freetown where he is doing his fieldwork. In this post, he reveals the role social media is playing in spreading mixed messages about the Ebola outbreak in the country.
Sierra Leoneans have been struggling to make sense of their country’s Ebola outbreak over the last few months. The Sierra Leonean Ministry of Health and Sanitation has reported 775 confirmed cases so far nationally, although very few of these are in the capital, Freetown, where I am currently based. Since President Koroma declared a “State of Public Health Emergency” on 1 August, Sierra Leone has gone into crisis mode. The army and police have been deployed to seal off roads connecting the epicentres of the outbreak in the East of the country. Places of assembly, such as bars, cinemas and schools are closed countrywide, and commercial transport is running on a limited basis.
A satirical photo circulated on WhatsApp of President Koroma and a senior minister amid official recommendations to restrict physical contact
While physical gatherings have been restricted, the spread of news, advice and speculation has not slowed down. A lot of this information is circulated on WhatsApp, a very popular smartphone application for sharing photos and messages among personal contacts and groups. It was through a message posted in a WhatsApp group comprised of young people from my neighbourhood that I first became aware of the initial Ebola outbreak in neighbouring Guinea early this year. At the time I passed off the report and disturbing accompanying photos as a hoax. This speaks, in part, to the inseparability of “truth” and “parody” (and many gradients in between) that is so central to WhatsApp’s use. WhatsApp is as much of a forum for spreading jokes, stories, and satire, as it is a genuine vehicle for informing and mobilising, to the extent that the distinctions become blurred and permeable. Continue reading
Walter Gam Nkwi recounts the impact of returning Cameroonian soldiers from Spanish Guinea on the Cameroon Grassfields after the end of the First World War in 1919.
As soldiers returned home to the Cameroon Grassfields in the north of the country from Fernando Po in Spanish Guinea, they brought with them new ideas which introduced “modernity” to this region. These former soldiers became not only evangelists, but also pioneers of “new love” in the region.
Cameroonian soldiers fighting for Germany are in the trenches in Garoua
The first German missionaries entered Cameroon midway during the 19th century, but they only started to make headway in the Cameroon Grassfields in the first decade of the 20th century. The German missionaries (The Pallotine Fathers), who introduced Christianity, left the territory when Germany was defeated in 1916. As a result, soldiers, recruited by the former colonial power Germany and who had fought battles in Nsanakang, Douala, Yaounde, and Mora, became the driving force of social change through spreading Christianity. They had converted to Christianity in Fernando Po under the guidance of German war chaplains. These ex-soldiers were scattered throughout the Cameroon Grassfields and took upon themselves the duty of spreading the “glad tidings” among their own people.
Walter Gam Nkwi parle des répercussions engendrées par le retour des soldats camerounais de la Guinée espagnole dans le Grassland camerounais à la fin de la Première Guerre mondiale en 1919.
De retour chez eux, dans la région du Grassland au nord du Cameroun, ces soldats rentrés de Fernando Po en Guinée espagnole, apportent de nouvelles idées. Celles-ci introduisent ‘ la modernité ‘ dans la région. Les anciens soldats sont maintenant devenus non seulement des évangélistes, mais aussi des pionniers d’un ‘nouvel amour’ dans la région.
Soldats camerounais dans les tranchées à Garoua luttent pour l’Allemagne
Les premiers missionnaires allemands sont arrivés au Cameroun au cours du 19ième siècle, ils n’ont cependant commencé à s’avancer dans le Grassland camerounais que lors de la première décennie du 20ième siècle. Les missionnaires allemands (les Pères Pallotins), qui ont introduit le christianisme, ont quitté le territoire lorsque l’Allemagne a été vaincue en 1916. Par conséquent, les soldats, recrutés par l’ancien pouvoir colonial, l’Allemagne, et ayant combattu à Nsanakang, Douala, Yaoundé, et Mora, sont devenus la force motrice de ce changement social par la diffusion du christianisme. Convertis au christianisme à Fernando Po par des religieux allemands, ces anciens soldats ont été dispersés à travers la savane camerounaise, avec pour mission la responsabilité de diffuser « la bonne nouvelle » parmi les leurs. Continue reading
LSE’s Atta Addo calls Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Laureates of African Descent an illuminating and well-researched volume which, despite a lack of a strong central concept, should be read by all those interested in Nobel Peace Prize winners of African descent.
Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa, and author of works such as The Curse of Berlin: Africa After the Cold War and Building Peace in West Africa, has assembled an impressive list of fourteen expert African and African-American contributors — a mix of scholars and practitioners—to write for this illuminating and well-researched volume. The book, dedicated to the memory of perhaps Africa’s most esteemed Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918- 5 December 2013), is a collection of abridged biographical essays on the thirteen African and African-American winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. The collection is an attempt to, in the words of Adebajo, “draw lessons for peacemaking, civil rights, socio-economic justice, environmental protection, nuclear disarmament and women’s rights” against a backdrop of what eminent Kenyan scholar, Ali Mazrui has called Pax Africana (an African-owned peace) (p.4).
The thirteen winners whose stories are told have championed nonviolence and human rights and fought oppression in various spheres and contexts. They include, in chronological order of winning: Ralph Bunche (1950) for having arranged a cease-fire between Israelis and Arabs during the war which followed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; Albert John Luthuli (1960) who won as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) for its non-violent resistance again apartheid; Martin Luther King Jr. (1964) for combatting racial inequality through nonviolence; Anwar Sadat (1977), joint winner with Menachem Begin of Israel for their contributions to peace in the Middle East; Desmond Tutu (1984) for his role as a unifying force in black South Africa’s non-violent struggle for liberation; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk (1993) for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundation for a new democratic South Africa; Kofi Annan (joint winner with UN, 2001) for his work for a better organized and more peaceful world; Wangari Maathai (2004) for her contribution to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights; Mohammed El Baradei (2005), joint winner with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for efforts in support of nuclear disarmament and world peace; Barack Hussein Obama (2009) for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Neyma Gbowee (2011) for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. Continue reading