This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ebola May Be Out of Our Sight, But It's Not Gone

If you read Dr. Pollock's comment on one of my posts last week, you'll already know what I'm talking about here. While we in the US were enjoying our Ebola-free Thanksgiving, West Africa--especially Sierra Leone--was struggling with an increasing number of deaths.
While health officials say they are making headway against the Ebola epidemic in neighboring Liberia, the disease is still raging in Sierra Leone, despite the big international push. In November alone, the World Health Organization has reported more than 1,800 new cases in this country, about three times as many as in Liberia, which until recently had been the center of the outbreak.
More than six weeks ago, international health officials conceded that they were overwhelmed in Sierra Leone and reluctantly announced a Plan B. Until enough hospital beds could be built here, they pledged to at least help families tend to their sick loved ones at home.
As the New York Times reports, however, the problem is not just one of getting enough health resources into the country. Like the problem of domestic violence, it involves deeply held cultural beliefs.
Public health professionals are beginning to look harder at Sierra Leone’s culture, which is dominated by secret men’s and women’s societies that have certain rituals, especially around burials. Many people here — just like in other cultures — believe that the afterlife is more important than this one. A proper burial, in which the body is touched and carefully washed, is the best way to ensure a soul reaches its destination.
It is not pure altruism, either. If burial traditions are not followed, people worry they may be haunted by a restless soul. But in a time of Ebola, handling corpses is extremely risky because they are highly infectious. Seventy percent of new cases here, Western officials said, are directly linked to traditional burials.

Neighboring Liberia has many of the same secret societies, but some anthropologists said that the Liberian government may have done a better job working with the leaders of secret societies to change burial practices, one possible reason Liberia’s Ebola crisis has been stabilizing.
The only long-term solution is the development of a vaccine, and there is at least promising news on that front, as a new trial just completed on humans in the U.S. was successful. 

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