Anthropologists answer four questions about pandemic – Nyamongo – – American Anthropologist
Question # 1: Where are you located and how severe is or was the pandemic in your region, country or location?
When news of the new coronavirus broke, those of us in Kenya, where I am, believed it would go away without ever causing the havoc we have seen. After all, Africa has had its own share of viral epidemics, like Ebola, in its bag of mixed fortune, but it has emerged from those epidemics. In any case, previous outbreaks of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had left Africa unscathed. We were wrong! As of January 10, 2021, Africa as a continent had a total of 3,037,007 cases of COVID-19 and 72,216 deaths, while confirmed cases in Kenya stood at 98,184 with 1,704 deaths. The first case of COVID-19 was reported in Kenya on March 13, 2020, not by a traveler from China, the epicenter of the virus, but by a Kenyan returning from the United States via London. Immediately, the government issued a series of measures, including invoking the Public Health Act (1986 Rev. 2012), which enabled health authorities to prescribe and apply measures to stem the spread of the virus. . A day later, the government imposed a travel ban from high-risk countries, effectively shutting down passenger air transport, and an order to close all educational institutions was also issued. These measures were further reinforced with the closure of businesses and offices, the declaration of a dusk-to-dawn curfew across the country (7 p.m. to 5 a.m.) and the ban on all forms of public gathering, including funerals, religious and political gatherings. The net effect of these measures quickly became apparent in almost all sectors of the economy.
Question # 2: How has the pandemic affected you, your family, the institution where you work and your work as an anthropologist?
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted activities at different levels: personal, family, community and institutional. On a personal level, individuals have had to deal with fear of the unknown. One of the problems with COVID-19 is that you can’t tell who is infected, especially if they are asymptomatic. My own schedules were changed because I could no longer, for example, go to my exercise. The problem was compounded by the fact that compliance with the directives issued was low.
The second challenge was at the family level. COVID-19 disrupted (extended) family reunions. These reunions often involve several generations, putting the older members of the extended family at risk. Therefore, we had to limit these meetings in order to curb the potential spread of the virus. The restrictions in place prohibited church attendance, weddings, and limited participation in funeral functions. These are important functions that ensure a continuous connection within the community.
There have been three major effects of the pandemic in my establishment. First, as an early containment measure, the government ordered the closure of all educational institutions in the country. Universities that relied on tuition fees paid by students were denied a source of revenue to support their operations. Second, the closure of universities also had another positive effect on the functioning of universities. Kenyan universities have been slow to embrace e-learning, but the shutdown and pressure to pay staff and meet other statutory obligations has accelerated, albeit rather haphazardly at first, the learning movement. and administration of exams to online platforms. Third, a declaration of cessation of movement also interrupted research activities in the field. Even after the measures were relaxed, anthropological approaches to data collection, such as participant observation and group discussions, became an immediate cause for concern as they potentially increase the risk of the virus spreading. When the teams restarted the field research, they changed the data collection procedures and also incurred additional costs for personal protective equipment such as hand sanitizers and face masks.
Question # 3: Do you blame anyone for the pandemic and, if so, who or what, and why?
I had a keen interest in research on zoonoses. A central topic of discussion for zoonoses is how diseases, like Ebola, cross the animal-human border and our role as humans in facilitating this intersection. I believe COVID-19 has passed because of our own actions, whether from Chinese wet markets driven by our culinary preferences or by some other means. I don’t think, as of now, that there has been a deliberate human effort to introduce the virus or an accidental release of it. Our very actions and our insatiable appetite to tinker with nature have led us to where we are as a human race.
Question # 4: Are there aspects of the pandemic that anthropology helps you see?
Anthropology helps me ask questions. One of the problems with the implementation of containment measures concerns the way in which human remains are treated. At the start of the pandemic, health authorities took control of burials of suspected COVID-19 cases, often doing so even in the middle of the night and with little or no involvement from the families of those who died. So more and more I wonder, within a public health space, what rights and rites does the deceased claim? Are there intercultural differences in the way these rights and rites are perceived, practiced and dispensed?