ASA Board of Directors Statement on Ebola

As Africanists, the members of the African Studies Association have a moral obligation to educate students and communities in ways that combat the growing hysteria surrounding the current Ebola crisis. We must respond to the fear and panic leading to the stigmatization, discrimination, and violence perpetrated against Africans and first responders. This fear recently led to the beatings of two Senegalese boys, sixth and eighth graders at a Bronx school, [1] the closing of a Mississippi middle school because the principal had visited Zambia – a country that has no connection to the Ebola epidemic,[2]  and the forced quarantine of a nurse returning from Sierra Leone, first in a tent in a New Jersey hospital, and then an attempted quarantine in her home state of Maine.[3]  The response to the Ebola crisis requires both short-term measures and longer-term institutional and infrastructure development. 

In the short term, we can support the effort to contain Ebola through our specific areas of expertise. Some ASA members with appropriate capabilities are engaged in discussions about policy and programming.[4]  We encourage ASA members to participate in teach-ins on their campuses to educate their communities about ways forward. As part of that effort, the ASA will provide links to background briefings and resources to assist its members who may be called upon to provide accurate information to their students, colleagues, and their communities.

The rapid recovery from Ebola made by the American nurses makes it increasingly obvious, as many have noted, that early detection and treatment are essential in the response to the Ebola crisis. Self-monitoring and self-reporting are key components of early presentation for diagnosis and care, but that process can only advance with an educated trusting public, hospitals with appropriate services, resources, and well-trained and outfitted health care workers. Nigeria and Senegal successfully stemmed Ebola within their borders. Clearly we have much to learn from their success. In Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, however, the countries plagued by Ebola, early presentation is next to impossible as all of the above are in extremely short supply. Colonial legacies, long-term Firestone Rubber company policies, and structural adjustment programs and policies set these countries up for extraction of resources. Little in the way of health, education, or transport infrastructure existed when civil wars further eroded the little that was available. When the Ebola outbreak began resources were extremely taxed, and now they are practically non-existent.[5] 

Growing fear, stigma, and inappropriate measures and reactions to Ebola limit instead of expand the collective effort needed to combat the epidemic. On October 22, 2014, WHO convened the 3rd meeting of the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee regarding the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa and recommended against a general ban on international travel or trade and noted the importance of maintaining economic ties and relationships to avoid further economic hardship often associated with migration.[6]  

As the epidemic continues, families, health workers, and Ebola survivors need to be educated, trained, and outfitted to be first responders to prevent transmission in the first place.[7]  African bioethicists demand that governments respect the rights of healthcare workers and institutionalize policies that support and protect them.[8]   Suggestions for novel and untested treatments, such as the use of convalescent plasma to manage Ebola are extremely problematic in the absence of a trained workforce and infrastructure to support them.[9]  It is essential that ASA members, as individuals or in groups, work together with civil society and other groups on the continent to pressure governments, agencies, and international organizations to coordinate efforts and develop appropriate short and long-term responses.


[1]Roseanne Colletti. African Boys Attacked at Bronx School, Called "Ebola": Advocacy Group.NBC. Accessed 28 October 2014 at: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Senegal-Boys-Attacked-Bullying-IS-318-Tremont-NYC-280519232.html.

[2] Jennifer Steinhauer. In U.S., Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes Politics. New York Times. 19 October 2014. Accessed 23 October at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/us/fear-of-ebola-closes-schools-and-shapes-politics.htm.

[3]Maine Nurse Kaci Hickox Vows to Fight Ebola Quarantine Order.  NBC News. Accessed 29 October 2014 at: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/ebola-virus-outbreak/maine-nurse-kaci-hickox-vows-fight-ebola-quarantine-order-n236416.

[4] See the series:http://somatosphere.net/series/ebola-fieldnotes, especiallySharon Abramowitz. “10 things Anthropologists can do” (http://somatosphere.net/2014/09/ten-things-that-anthropologists-can-do-to-fight-the-west-african-ebola-epidemic.html).

[5] See multiple contributors at http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights//585-ebola-in-perspective and the blog “Africa is a Country” (http://africasacountry.com/; Pamela Scully. Liberia’s poverty, skepticism of experts makes treating Ebola harder. August 11, 2014. Accessed 28 August 2014 at: http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/08/11/ebola-the-politics-of-resistance-in-liberia/, and Farmer’s Diary.

[6] WHO statement. Statement on the 3rd meeting of the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Accessed 28 October 2014 at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2014/ebola-3rd-ihr-meeting/en/

[7]Nguyen, Vinh-Kim. "Ebola: How We Became Unprepared, and What Might Come Next." Fieldsights - Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology Online, October 07, 2014, http://www.culanth.org/fieldsights/605-ebola-how-we-became-unprepared-and-what-might-come-next

[8] Yakubu A, Folayan MO, Sani-Gwarzo N, et al. J Med Ethics Published Online First: 9 September 2014: doi:10.1136/medethics- 2014-102434.

[9] http://www.who.int/bloodproducts/brn/potential_use_convalescent_plasma_in_management_of_ebola-brn_considerations.pdf and http://www.who.int/bloodproducts/brn/BRN_PositionPaperConvPlasmaFiloviruses_FINALWEB14August2014.pdf

 

Ebola Sessions at the 2014 Annual Meeting

Health and Medicine Association Workshop
Responding to Ebola-related stigma and violence targeting Africans and first responders
Wednesday, November 19
9:30 am-12:00 pm
Room 105
This workshop will bring together participants from different disciplines to work on developing a set of initiatives and materials about Ebola to help reduce stigma and violence towards Africans and first responders.

ASA Current Issues Plenary
The Political Economy of the Ebola Crisis
Thursday, November 20
1:30 pm-2:30 pm
White River Ballroom E
This session will place the spread of Ebola in a broad context. Panelists will examine the history of the region, explore the nature of governance, and the politics of development aid in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

ASA Board of Directors/WARA sponsored roundtable
Ebola: Exposing the Fault Lines
Friday, November 21
10:00 am-11:45 am
White River Ballroom E
This panel will bring together experts from the West Africa region to explore the ways in which conflict and its immediate consequences have fueled the spread of Ebola. They will consider what lessons might be drawn about the kinds of social, political, and economic transformations required to effectively confront and protect communities from threats like Ebola.

ASA Board of Directors/Health and Medicine Sponsored Roundtable 
Engaging the Ebola Crisis 
Friday, November 21
2:45 pm-4:30 pm
Location: White River Ballroom E
This roundtable explores different ways in which both health care professionals and academics can help shape the world’s response to Ebola. How might the ASA contribute to broader efforts to help both West Africa and to temper the anxiety in the USA? In early November more than 25 leading anthropologists, who have worked extensively in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, engaged in a two-day workshop to develop recommendations on how to solve the Ebola crisis. Members of this roundtable will report on these meetings and discussion will focus on ways to collaborate, support, and build on this initial effort.