Monday, April 18, 2005

Marbug virus in Angola

The NYTimes has an article (free sub required) on the efforts to contain and stop an outbreak of the Marbug virus in Angola. The article details the statistics to date, the symptoms of the virus (similar to Ebola, like from the movie Outbreak) and talks about government inadequacies in notification when the outbreak started.
What was interesting to me was the cultural implications of the emergency health workers versus the locals. I think its analogous to what we are trying to do from a cultural perspective. Granted, missions is never quite like containing an outbreak of a deadly diseases, but the cultural sensitivites are much the same. In this case, the safety of workers and proper disposal of infected bodies cannot accomodate any cultural sensitivities. It's an interesting extreme to a cross cultural encounter that has no alternative.

- Their efforts to curtail the outbreak turn on whether distrustful local people in this poor and isolated town of 50,000 people alert health workers to suspicious cases. So far, persuading them has not been easy. Victims who are taken to the isolation ward are never seen again; their bodies, rapidly buried for safety, cannot be honored in the traditional funerals so important in this country.

- For the people of Uíge, rampant death is now joined by the near equivalent of a space invasion: health workers encased in masks, goggles, zip-up jump suits, rubberized aprons and rubber boots as they collect corpses in the stifling heat. The garb is all white, a symbol of witchcraft here.

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