Explaining African fears of Western medicine
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.