Ebola and “exponential growth”

WHO: Map of Ebola Cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as of 6 September 2014
WHO: Map of Ebola Cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as of 6 September 2014

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has not received the resources it merits, in part because other Ebola outbreaks proved relatively easy to contain. Those epidemics, however, tended to take place in a rural context, and Africa has changed profoundly since the 1970s. The urbanization and transportation networks that are remaking the region have also meant that it is far easier for diseases to spread. The current outbreak is expanding exponentially. The latest map on the Ebola outbreak by the World Health Organization makes clear the scale of the challenge that the global community now faces. When you look at this map, keep in mind that these are confirmed cases. So this map is an underestimate. According to some calculations, there may be 100,000 cases in Africa by December. Without rapid and massive international aid, this outbreak will not be controlled. On Twitter? I recommend following Laurie Garrett (Pulitzer prize winner for her writing on public health), who has a great commentary on the outbreak, which includes key documents such as this map. If you are interested in global health, you might also be interested in my book on the AIDS Pandemic in Latin America.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Ebola update

"3d Rendered Virus" by chrisroll
“3d Rendered Virus” by chrisroll

There is a great deal of news today about Ebola, which has now spread to Senegal, the fifth country in West Africa to be affected by the outbreak. The nation has tried to protect itself by banning flights from affected countries, but this is unlikely to be effective given that most people cross the border by ground transport. In Liberia the government has lifted the quarantine on the slum community of West Point, after widespread media reports that the quarantine was being flouted by people who bribed police to leave. At this time, quarantines do not seem to be effective in dense urban environments in developing countries; they are difficult to enforce, and the social costs are high. …

Ebola and Culture

"Wallpaper World" by Salvatore Vuono at
“Wallpaper World” by Salvatore Vuono at

A crowd of men recently overran an Ebola clinic in Liberia, after which 17 patients disappeared. One of the factors driving this event may have been a sense of denial that Ebola exists. Such concerns led to an improbable new pop culture hit in West Africa: a song titled “Ebola in Town.” In recent article on NPR (titled “`Shadow and `D-12′ Sing an infectious song about Ebola”) John Poole describes the emergence of this unlikely piece. At first, there would seem to be few things more inappropriate than a pop song about a fatal disease. But the song emerged from local concerns that people did not believe in Ebola, or understand how to fight the spread of the disease. For this reason, the song informs people about the appearance of Ebola, its spread through physical contact, the importance of social distancing and the dangers of bush meat. All with a catchy beat. Click here to read Poole’s article and hear the song. And bravo to NPR in general for their great coverage of the outbreak. Want to read more about the epidemic? One great source is Ian Mackay’s blog, Virology Down Under.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University


Ebola and Denial in Liberia

"Virus" by ddpavumba at
“Virus” by ddpavumba at

Today a clinic in Liberia that cares for Ebola patients was overrun. The looters even stole a bloodied mattress, while patients left the facility. Everyone receiving care at the center had tested positive for Ebola, and seventeen of them had disappeared after this tumult. According to Elise Zoker and Caroline Chen’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, one of the attackers said that they did not believe in “this Ebola outbreak.” To many readers, it may seem inconceivable that people would choose to take people infected with a deadly and communicable disease back to their families or neighborhoods. It’s perhaps equally unthinkable that people would walk unprotected through a facility drenched in a virus so deadly that it should be contained in a biohazard level four facility, and then take an item soaked in the blood of an Ebola patient. But such strange behavior is not new; denial has always been a part of major disease outbreaks. When I read this news, it reminded me of the early history of HIV. …

Hope and New Species

"World Map" by xedos4 at
“World Map” by xedos4 at

I just attended an excellent conference on Global Studies pedagogy at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. One challenge that faculty in the field discussed is that that our courses can too quickly adopt a “global problems” approach. This encourages students to become overwhelmed by the scale of global issues, and to view the world as a problematic and dangerous place. This is unlikely to either lead them to want to dive deeper into Global Studies or to do Study Abroad. For this reason, it’s important to focus not only on issues but also solutions. When covering key global problems -such as environmental issues- I try to also include models, such as Curitiba’s urban planning, or Bogota’s amazing bus system. I also think that it’s good to not forget positive news, even when focusing on deforestation or ethnic conflict. Once students have a sense that there’s hope, they are more inclined to focus on environmental issues or conflict resolution. …

European Migration to Africa

Photo of Giraffe courtesy of Satit Srihin at
Photo of Giraffe courtesy of Satit Srihin at

It’s been hard to watch the financial crisis unfold in Europe, and to hear about how unemployment is affecting younger people though-out the continent. One of the powerful trends that has emerged from the crisis has been an unexpected form of migration, in which Europeans are traveling to developing countries for employment. One of the strongest examples of this has been in Portugal, which has deep historical ties to Africa and Brazil. The Angolan government has been welcoming skilled, young Portuguese immigrants with open arms. But other countries, such as Mozambique, are also seeing large numbers of Portuguese immigrants. As this video report from Al Jazeera makes clear, this is a powerful trend in Europe today. With the bad news out of Portugal this week, as the government scrambles to find new cuts, this trend will probably continue for the near future.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa

I am teaching a new course “Theoretical Foundations of Global Studies Theory,” so I am reading broadly right now, particularly in the area of postcolonialism and critical theory. One of the best books that I have read has been Pal Ahluwalia’s Out of Africa, which argues that the roots of French postcolonialism lie in that nation’s long and tortured history in Algeria. He makes the argument by tracing the lives of key thinkers -Camus, Sartre, Cixous, Lyotard, Fanon, Derrida and Bourdieau- to show how their Algerian experience shaped their writings. In Algeria, the key question that people faced was “What is my identity?” Europeans from many nations adopted a persona of being more French than the French, in order to distinguish themselves from the Arab population. But this identity was contingent. For example, Algeria’s Jews first received citizenship, then lost it under Vichy France, and did not have it reinstated until six months after the war. This context shaped, for example, the experience of Helene Cixous, the famous feminist scholar. As the war forced people to take sides and decide on their identity -did they really belong in their homeland?- multiple academics experienced exile. …

Sheng: Cultural Globalization and New Languages in Africa

With cultural globalization comes cultural change. I have been on the Rio Negro in the Amazon rainforest, only to hear a canoe approach with someone playing Madonna. Hip hop has become a global phenomenon. Many people decry what they see as the emergence of a new global culture: shallow, celebrity-focused and American dominated. Part of this critique focuses on the danger not only to local cultures, but also to languages, thousands of which are endangered globally. The Enduring Voices project of National Geographic is currently seeking to record some of these tongues before they disappear forever, not only to document them for history, but also to facilitate efforts to revitalize them. I have thought about indigenous language based on my field work in Oaxaca around HIV/AIDS. How do you do HIV prevention work in a region that may have more than 16 different indigenous languages, each of which has many different dialects? Zapotec itself has more than twenty dialects, each of which has its own name, such as Lhej, Xan, Xhon and Xidza. The diversity of these languages is amazing. Mazotec is a tonal language, which has a whistled form, so that people can communicate across the valleys through whistles. But while we focus on language loss, and indigenous languages, it is interesting to also remember that new languages are also being born. …

The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Power of NGOs

The Lord’s Resistance Army is an armed group that first appeared in Northern Uganda in 1987-8, but later spread to Southern Sudan and Central Africa. Over the last 25 years it has become infamous for kidnapping children to serve in its ranks, as well as for using violence against civilians. Although the group’s power largely comes from military force, its leader Joseph Kony also tries to claim legitimacy as a religious leader, who blends Christianity with local beliefs, such as spirit possession. Because of the group’s brutality (mutilating people, sexually abusing children) the LRA creates such great fear that after one attack in Northern Uganda in 1997, perhaps 100,000 people became refugees, who fled the region to escape the violence. According to the website Global Security, in 1998 the LRA kidnapped 6000 children into its ranks, although most of them ultimately managed to escape. Because of this long history of violence and brutality, in October 2011 President Obama chose to send 100 troops to Africa, to help regional armed forces track down the Lord’s Resistance Army. …

Privacy & Cookies: This site uses cookies. See our Privacy Policy for details. By continuing to use this website, you agree to their use. If you do not consent, click here to opt out of Google Analytics.