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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Cholera and Computer e-Waste in West Africa

My colleagues and graduate students and I have been working for several years in Accra, the capital of Ghana, examining spatial inequalities in health. A huge issue is the depth and scope of health issues--well beyond the threat of malaria, which is what most people probably think of when they hear of health problems in West Africa. But among the other health concerns are: (1) cholera and (2) computer e-waste. The New York Times reported yesterday on the new outbreak of cholera in slums of West African cities.
A fierce cholera epidemic is spreading through the coastal slums of West Africa, killing hundreds and sickening many more in one of the worst regional outbreaks in years, health experts said.Cholera, transmitted through contact with contaminated feces, was made worse this year by an exceptionally heavy rainy season that flooded the sprawling shantytowns in Freetown and Conakry, the capitals of Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea.“If your area is flooded with rainwater, and if people are defecating in the open, it will get into the water supply,” said Jane Bevan, a regional sanitation specialist for Unicef. “We know governments have the money for other things. I’m afraid sanitation is never given the priority it deserves.”
The story does not reference Ghana, but our own experience is that cholera outbreaks are fairly frequent in Accra, especially during the rainy seasons.

The story on computer e-waste actually was aired by PBS on its Frontline program more than two years ago, but Justin Stoler, who did his doctoral dissertation research in Accra, just brought it to my attention and it is too good a story and 20-minute video to ignore. All of us working in Accra have been in or near the neighborhood shown in this program where old computers from the US and other rich countries come to die--almost certainly then contributing to earlier than expected deaths for those dealing with the toxic waste. And, not surprisingly, this is the same slum neighborhood in which cholera outbreaks are most common. 

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