“The West Knows Best”: Unintended Consequences of Western Aid During the West African and Democratic Republic of the Congo Ebola Epidemics

  • Author / Creator
    Forgie, Ella Mithra Edith
  • The two largest Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemics on record occurred from 2013-16 in West Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea) and 2018-20 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), claiming 11 325 and 2 299 lives, respectively. The Western aid responses that followed centered on repressing “high-risk” individual behavioural practices and failed to take into account the role that structural violence and other macrolevel forces play in limiting individual behavioural autonomy and encouraging disease spread. Thus, individuals were frequently blamed for refusing to comply with public health orders such as the official and unofficial bans on hunting, sale, and consumption of bushmeat in West Africa and the DRC; the Safe and Dignified Burials Initiative; and the required reporting of suspected EVD cases to designated Ebola treatment units. Little effort was made to determine why noncompliance was occurring, and even less was done to customize protocols to the context wherein they were being delivered and increase community engagement.

    Through a historico-political, economic, and sociocultural lens, I will explore how Western aid during the two largest EVD epidemics was influenced by racialized and Western- centric discourses around disease that failed to account for the social realities of bodies, among other things. Further, I will discuss why the implementation of aid responses standardized to the West in non-Western contexts was inadequate and even counterproductive in slowing the spread of the disease and reducing the death toll. Based on my discussion, I will argue that the scope of the Western aid responses was far too narrowly focused on individual behavioural practices, and that the priorities often misaligned with local values. I seek to debunk the commonly held though rarely acknowledged assumption that the West knows best. By demonstrating how approaches created by and standardized to the West can be ineffective and even deadly when implemented in non-Western contexts, I put forth a call to the global health community to deploy customized rather than standardized aid, to amplify and empower rather than ignore or simply acknowledge the voices of those to whom aid is being distributed, and to incorporate into public health paradigms the role that individual social realities play in mediating disease susceptibility.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.