We are sending this open letter to The Collegian to address an issue that concerns us all. We have learned that the U.S. is sending 3,000 military troops to Africa “so the U.S. can boost and counter the outbreak of Ebola." We are concerned that sending military troops without cultural competency will hinder efforts rather than assist them. In our classes, we have found that International Aid workers have been going to African countries hit by Ebola for the past decade. They arrive, don hazmat suits and go to the rural regions hit by Ebola. There, with clinical efficiency, they arrive, remove bodies, take blood, disinfect and leave, often without speaking to anyone in the village to explain what they are doing and why. As a result, local people are often left to draw their own conclusions as to why bodies and blood were taken away without normal interactions of civility and humanity. Often, due to colonial-era abuse of rural citizens, paranoia reigns and people surmise the hazmat workers are “stealing organs or blood.” As a result, the site of the hazmat suits or of ambulances causes infected patients to run or to hide, exacerbating the spread of Ebola.

Learning from past mistakes, we hope American military personnel deployed to Africa to fight Ebola will consider the following:

  • Patients should be treated like people, not just medical cases.
  • Military personnel should avoid wearing intense military gear and hazmat suits if they are not touching locals.
  • The troops should educate themselves on local culture, and try to be as friendly as possible without touching infected patients.
  • Elbow bumping instead of hand-shaking is OK.
  • Form more connections to improve communication between workers and families to prevent fear of foreigners or medical authorities.
  • Be willing to use Skype on an iPad so that infected individuals can converse with relatives left at home.
  • Avoid viewing Americans or other Westerners as the ones who will stop this epidemic.
  • It takes people at all levels to be educated and willing to work together.
  • At all levels respect other people.

We are hoping that if any of the readers of this letter know someone involved in this deployment, the contents of the above message can be sent to them. Comments are welcome.

Sincerely,

Ashley Vines, Courtney Grubbs-Donovan, Chloe Shmanske, Elsa Diaz, Emily Flores, Erin Shafer, Grace Conway, Gabby Putnam, Hayley Durudogan, Josh Chawla, Noah Hillerbrand, Olivia Guillocheau, Becca Losch, Soroya Dookie, Tarah Fitzgerald, Yiqi Liu and Jennifer Nourse, professor of anthropology.

Contributed by the First-Year Seminar: Global Medicine and Healing

Contact professor Jennifer Nourse at jnourse@richmond.edu

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Collegian.

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