Academic journal article Human Organization

Implications of Changing Attitudes towards Game Meat Consumption at the Time of Ebola in Limbe, Cameroon

Academic journal article Human Organization

Implications of Changing Attitudes towards Game Meat Consumption at the Time of Ebola in Limbe, Cameroon

Article excerpt

Introduction

On May 2, 2016, the final Ebola patient identified by the World Health Organization (WHO 2016) in Liberia from the 2014-2016 epidemic was successfully treated. Sequencing of blood samples from confirmed cases in Guinea and Liberia indicate the source of the virus was from a single and known transmission chain-suggesting exposure to infected body fluids from a survivor. Although the WHO continues to assist Sierra Leone in surveillance on the ground, no flare-up cases have been reported. Through April 2016, the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone reported a total of 28,616 confirmed, probable, and suspected Ebola cases and 11,310 Ebola deaths (CDC 2016). Two additional West African countries, Nigeria and Mali, also reported cases during the recent Ebola outbreak, and cases were found in the United States and Europe as well.

It has been hypothesized that the recent Ebola epidemic stemmed from a single zoonotic transmission that did not involve the consumption or even hunting of so-called "bushmeat" (wild game). Saéz et al. (2014) mention that the source of the initial human case appears to have been a colony of insectivore free-tailed bats (Mops condylurus) living in a hollow tree in Meliandou, Guinea. The bats were found by a two-year-old boy, Emile Ouamouno, who was playing in the tree. Emile died of Ebola in December 2013, becoming the index case for the subsequent outbreak. Emile's mother, sister, and grandmother also died of the disease, presumably through human-to-human transmission. From Meliandou, Saéz et al. (2014) believe, the virus spread to people living in other areas of Guinea and then to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and beyond.

One important social impact of the epidemic that has extended beyond those who were infected or directly affected by Ebola was the development of pervasive fear and even panic within African countries and globally (Farmer 2014; Kobayashi et al. 2015). Inasurvey in Liberia conducted with 609 respondents from five counties, Kobayashi et al. (2015), for example, found that more than 90 percent of respondents reported a fear of Ebola patients, over 40 percent indicated they had a fear of cured patients, and over 50 percent acknowledged having a fear of Ebola treatment centers. One cannot justify the conflation of fear of patients and of treatment centers, as the characteristics of fear may differ in different social contexts, but it is evident that the overall level of fear in the general population rose considerably as the epidemic continued. Moreover, there was considerable anxiety among populations in non-affected regions about Ebola spreading to new areas that had not yet reported any cases. In Cameroon, dread became widespread, particularly after Nigeria, with which it shares a long border, experienced eight deaths. Considerable community, mass media, and social media discussion about potential protective strategies circulated in an atmosphere of alarm and uncertainty about the outbreak.

Here, we examine one such strategy that appears to have gained traction in Cameroon: avoiding the consumption of game meat. Game meat,' which includes a range of wild animals (e.g., bats, monkeys, apes, rodents, and other forest animals), is a traditional and culturally meaningful source of protein-rich food in many West African countries. Since the current Ebola outbreak, however, game meat consumption has been cited in the popular media as a cause of the spread of Ebola, a development that seems to be spurring its cultural redefinition as a dangerous source of disease, and hence, as something to be avoided (Hogenboom 2014; IRIN 2014). The science of zoonotic Ebola risk certainly affirms that butchering wild animals (acquiring, opening, dressing, and preparing the carcass) could be a high risk factor for the transmission of bloodbome pathogens because it "involves contact with potentially infected vectors, whereas distant consumption may not" (Wolfe et al. …

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