Anthropology Deciphers the Ebola Crisis

To the world outside that of the victims, The Ebola crisis is one of hazmat suits and anonymous bodies. However, emerging along with the voices of doctors are those of medical anthropologists, who ask for an interior perspective in dealing with the epidemic.

West African countries are truly suffering, particularly those of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. According to anthropologist Adia Benton, in an article by Providence Journal, numbers are most likely much higher than reported. Along with hospital counts are those bodies too weak to ever make it to a hospital and into statistics books. When assessing the impact of the virus, the “real” numbers are a good start.

Then it is necessary to move more deeply into the cultures affected by Ebola and help medical services and disease control units provide better care. This means more culturally sensitive procedures. A prime example is discussed in an interview with medical anthropologist Barry Hewlett. Ebola protocol usually ends with loved ones in body bags and in the dirt, but biomedicine can compromise with local customs, even in times of crisis. It is not dangerous for people to see the dead, their clothes to be buried with them instead of burned, and the hands of the mourners to be washed with bleach instead of a communal pool.

Disease and epidemic is not a new phenomena anywhere, and especially in the countries discussed. Protection is good, but biomedical procedures need to be assessed to break down what is absolutely essential and what may be adapted to help people cope with loss on their own terms.

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