P 08

Infectious Connections: Humans, Nonhumans, and Life in the Global Health in Africa

Panel abstract
Since the Ebola epidemic in West Africa 2014 – 2016 zoonotic diseases are acutely on the radar of policy makers, politicians, and the public. Zoonotic diseases are predicted to be on the rise, with rare and previously less known infectious disease outbreaks occurring more frequently than before. Most of these diseases are zoonotic, transmitted from animals to humans. This panel invites scholarly work within African Studies on these emerging and emergent infectious connections: infectious connections between humans and animals, humans and micro-organisms, as well as between humans and fragile, fragmented or ailing public health infrastructures on the African continent.

Time: Thursday, 28/06/2018, 11 am - 1 pm
New venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 8

Uli Beisel (University of Bayreuth)
Sung-Joon Park (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Shane Doyle (University of Leeds, UK) and Felix Meier zu Selhausen (University of Sussex, Falmer, UK)
Hannah Brown (University of Durham, UK)
Almudena Mari Sáez (Robert Koch Institute, Berlin)
Laura Matt (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Richard Rottenburg (University of Halle-Wittenberg)

Paper abstracts

Shane Doyle and Felix Meier zu Selhausen
Who Came to the Clinic? Lessons from Ugandan Hospital Registry, 1908-1970

This paper uses inpatient registers from Toro Hospital, the earliest mission hospital in Western Uganda, to explore the links between religious affiliation, education, and health in colonial Uganda. We use a novel dataset of more than 16,500 African hospital inpatients belonging to the Christian, Muslim, and African traditional religions from 1908-49. We trace the incidence of patients’ diagnosed diseases, their length of hospitalization, and treatment results by sex over the colonial era. Our results document the hospital’s gradual success in curing tropical diseases over the colonial era and the dramatic reduction of infectious diseases among inpatients following the introduction of penicillin in Uganda. We also study the link between religion and health, where the type of disease at hospitalization, length of hospital stay, and the treatment result measures health status after hospital treatment. We observe that Christian converts stayed shorter in hospital and were more likely to be cured than non-Christians, suggesting that Christian conversion was associated with some advantages in terms of personal wellbeing. We also investigate the incidence of diseases related to personal hygiene and sexual behaviour. We find that Christian patients had significantly lower risks of being diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and skin disease than non-Christians. However, we find no religion-specific effects concerning the incidence of hygiene-related infections, nor that mission school education, measured by age-heaping, lowered Christian patients’ relative incident of STD and hygiene-related diagnoses. This challenges the effectiveness of missions’ hygiene propaganda or suggests that public health information was broadly effective throughout the entire population. We also document how disease-diagnoses depended on the moral ideas of British missionary doctors.

Hannah Brown
Blind Spots in Global Health: Lassa Fever, Science, and the Making of Neglect in Sierra Leone

For more than 50 years, people in parts of West Africa have lived in the presence of a deadly virus that has symptoms which are similar to Ebola. You have probably never heard of Lassa fever, even though this virus has killed many more people than Ebola and places a huge burden on health systems in West Africa. Generations of African, North American, and European scientists and health workers have tried to fight Lassa fever, and research and responses to the disease have received substantial investment. Yet the disease remains neglected; people who live in the region continue to be at risk from Lassa fever and unlikely to receive good care and treatment in the event of infection. This talk is based on an ongoing collaborative ethnographic book project which argues that, counterintuitively, scientific investments into Lassa fever have helped to produce the very neglect that they aim to alleviate. As a case study from our work, I will focus specifically on events that occurred during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, where outbreak response relied heavily on existing infrastructure for managing Lassa fever. This case study provides an entry point to exploring intersections between knowledge, scientific attention, health infrastructure, and the unintended making of neglect.

Almudena Mari Sáez
Who Cares About Rats? Bio-Securities and One Health Paradigms in a Lassa Fever Endemic Region

Research on Lassa fever endemic areas has been outlined in recent years with intertwining approaches such One Health and Biosecurity. In the absence of vaccine one of the disease prevention measures under experimentation is the control of the Lassa virus vector, the rodent Mastomys natalensis. Our recent work in Upper Guinea and Easter Sierra Leone has provided us with a better understanding of the micro-ecologies of human – rodents’ interactions and the centrality of the bio(s) in domestic and peri-domestic spaces. Rodents are intrinsically part of daily life and attuned to somatic forms of experiences, people listen to them, see them, smell their urines, and feel them licking their hands at night. People encounter rodents in their fields, in their gardens and in their houses. Rodents eat their rice, chew their clothes and shoes, and pierce the walls of buildings, with consequent irritation or pessimism to make them disappear. The local population and research experimentations on rodent control face all the time this living together and commensalisms with the impression that it is impossible to disentangling human-virus- rodents’ messy ontologies. We would like to present in this paper how rodents are seen primarily as a risk for food availability and a evidence of lack of infrastructures, and only secondarily became biomedical visible through research programmes. What are the interactions between these different perceptions and relationships with rodents? Which means do people use to prevent their crops and their belongings from rodents’ needs? What are these bio-socialities which tell us about social and political processes in Guinea and Sierra Leone? How can we make use of the knowledge generated on Lassa fever research to extend the scope beyond biosecurity interest? Who cares for rats and why? Is it possible to live with a risk under the bed?

Laura Matt
Hunting, Zoonotic Diseases, and Shifting Human-Environment Relations in Northern Sierra Leone

In the response to the West-African Ebola epidemic (2014-2016), bushmeat consumption has been identified as a source of infection. The ban imposed on bushmeat consumption and hunting was officially followed but often (although secretly) practically ignored as people tend to stick to their accustomed way of interacting with wild animals. Nonetheless, hunting practices and bushmeat consumption in the rural north of Sierra Leone are, as my findings show, changing; a process which is only to be understood in relation to and embedded in broader changes of human environment interactions and their political ecology. The paper draws on three months (Oct.-Dec. 2017) of fieldwork in a village community in northern Sierra Leone; (participatory) observations and numerous informal discussions were complemented by several group-discussions and individual interviews. Instead of relating the changing hunting practices to the sensitization for zoonotic disease transmission, the paper explores the relation between a) changing hunting practices, b) environmental changes in the last decades, and c) ongoing governmental timber cutting programmes and their impact on the former. Relating these three domains sheds light on some of these fragile entanglements that shape hunting practices as well as human and non-human life and interactions.