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Local knowledge is invaluable for infectious disease preparedness and response in Africa

A new book by Genomics4S Research Fellow Dr. Samuel Ujewe and colleagues scrutinizes the socio-cultural dimensions of emerging infectious diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that infectious diseases are responsible for about one quarter of deaths worldwide. A recent WHO Report indicated that were 10 million deaths from infectious diseases in 2016, with the highest incidence and mortality rates in the tropical countries. Emerging infectious diseases pose a significant burden on public health and can have a negative impact on economic development. Infectious disease prevalence and outcomes are greatly influenced by the socioeconomic realities and health care systems of individual countries, however, there are also complex environmental and ecologic factors at play. Their spread is especially high in Sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, and yellow fever constitute over 60% of the overall disease burden, according to an estimate by WHO. Moreover, diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS have the highest degree of mortality and morbidity in this region.

The newly published edited volume, Socio-cultural Dimensions of Emerging Infectious Diseases in Africa by Tangwa, Abayomi, Ujewe, and Munung (eds.) opens up a dialogue on the value of indigenous perspectives for the proper understanding and management of emerging deadly infectious diseases and related healthcare problems in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. The book includes contributions from different academic fields and interdisciplinary collaborations that explore the overall health care context, preparedness and emergency responses to deadly pathogens and epidemics in a geographic area, which has been historically characterized by a heavy disease burden and resource poverty. An underlying premise of the various chapters is that a proper understanding of socio-cultural dimensions of healthcare and illness in Africa is central to the development of effective and sustainable strategies and interventions to address current and future challenges. While there is a sizeable volume of literature on the economic dimensions of infectious diseases, we still need to gain insight into how cultural attitudes and social values affect the management of emerging infectious diseases in an African context, as demonstrated by the recent Ebola and Lassa fever outbreaks. Furthermore, identifying and understanding underlying issues from the perspectives of affected populations is crucial for achieving outcomes that are better suited to the needs and aspirations of local communities.

The book gives a strong argument for a greater integration of African voices in global health policy and discourse about healthcare problems affecting the region. Case studies of epidemics and interventions discussed the chapters will likely be of interest to a wide readership, from scholars and practitioners in global health, biomedicine, research ethics, regulation and governance, science and health communication, and the social sciences, to the general public. Moreover, the book looks beyond immediate pathogen threats as Ebola, SARS, and Zika to consider the broader context for global health efforts, such as challenges concerning science education and communication in Africa, narratives from the filed, social determinants of health, how cultural values shape local responses to contain disease outbreaks, successes and failures of previous responses and interventions, and other relevant issues.


Note that Chapter 18 is open-access.

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