Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Explaining African fears of Western medicine

Today the New York Times has an article with the ambitious title 'Why Africa fears Western Medicine' by Harriet A. Washington, author of the generally well-received book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. The title is ambitious, because it is a short opinion piece about a rather large question. And some might say: the question itself is questionable, considering that most Africans have little access to Western medicine, and hence have little to fear. And in my experience, those who do have access, if anything, are often a bit too trusting. But let's take the bait, and examine Washington's mini-theory anyway.

According to Washington, the African fear of Western medicine basically has two roots. First, there have been serious abuses in medical research on the African continent. Second, there have been cases of unintentional harm on African patients by Western medical practitioners working in sub-standard, less-than-hygienic working conditions. Taken together, this has led to a deep-rooted suspicion of Western medical science and health care workers that Africa, in its current state, can ill-afford.

The arguments and examples in support of this mini-theory are not altogether convincing. Some cases of abuse (by Drs. Bezwoda, McGown and Swango) cited by Washington are new to this reader, and I am grateful for the (bad) news. But one wonders how many people in Africa have heard of these doctors and what they have done. A more prominent case involves Wouter Basson, former head of the South African chemical and biological weapons unit, but I venture that most Africans who have heard of Basson don't regard him as a 'doctor' or a 'researcher' at all, but nasty racist lackey of the Apartheid state.

Washington puts forward the case of the Bulgarian health workers in Libya as an example of 'unintentional harm by Western health practitioners in resource-poor countries' thesis. She also suggests that there is a lot of HIV infection in Africa going on by Western health care workers using unclean needles, because allegedly they really have no alternative. As support, she wheels in the 2003 study by David Gisselquist et. al. that claims that 'up to 40%' of HIV infections in Africa are due to hospital-based infection, rather than (say) hetrosexual activity or mother-to-child transmission. To say that the methods of that study are controversial would be putting it mildly. I've heard that epidemiology graduate students in our local school of public health use the Gisselquist study as a punching bag.

Perhaps Washington is looking too much to discrete events to explain African attitudes towards Western medicine. Whatever distrust there is should be situated within the colonial past and the neo-colonial present of Africa, and not the actions of particular individuals. Reasons for general distrust, including distrust towards Western medicine, are not hard to find on a continent familiar with exploitation. There is a bigger story to be told, and maybe Washington can tell it, but not in an 800 word opinion piece.

Labels: ,

4 Comments:

Blogger Minerva said...

I see that my critical response has not appeared. I also see that the blog's "editor" is its writer.
Interesting.

Approximately how long does it take for comments to post— if they are not withheld by the editor?

2:48 PM  
Blogger Stuart Rennie, Editor said...

My answer is ... I don't know. There is no moderator function on this blog: usually the comment goes straight on, and I get an email notification sent to me. I did not see your comment, and I was not notified that anything was sent. Please send your critical response to my work email: stuart_rennie@unc.edu.

As far as me being both writer and editor, there is nothing particularly sinister about it. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get other people to write for the blog besides myself. So for the moment, it is unfortunately a one-man show.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Prestige said...

If you are looking for tour&travels related information, you can scan the resource page of herbsncures.com and get travel related links on the resource section of the website.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Zheng junxai5 said...

2015-10-13 zhengjx
Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet On Sale
michael kors handbags
cheap jordans
ugg australia
cheap nfl jerseys
Lebron 12,11,10 Shoes For Sale
Louis Vuitton Outlet 100% Authentic
ugg boots
Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet Stores Online
canada goose outlet
coach outlet
michael kors outlet
Louis Vuitton Handbags Outlet Sale
michael kors outlet sale
Coach Factory Outlet Online Sale Discount
canada goose outlet
michael kors outlet online
cheap louis vuitton
Coach Outlet Store Online Clearance
Michael Kors Outlet Online Sale Free Shipping
coach outlet store online
ugg boots
nike outlet,nike shoes,nike store,nike air max,nike free run,air max,nike free,nike blazers
Louis Vuitton Outlet Discount Handbags
cheap ugg boots
hermes birkin
ugg boots
Coach Factory Outlet Discount Online
true religion jeans
nike air max

8:47 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home