Category Archives: mass death

Ebola: Public Safety Issue or Cultural Violation?

Locals observe foreign health officials burying an Ebola victim. WHO Guidelines for Ebola Burials

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak claimed about 11,000 lives and transcended country borders. Ebola presents with frightening symptoms: more frightening was that it kept spreading. Thanks to Anthropologists, health officials knew why: local burial practices endangered the lives of those partaking in burial rituals. We will look at how those practices influenced Ebola policies and procedures:

Initial Resistance

When the first responders to Ebola came to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, they were determined to stop Ebola’s transmission at any cost. The Ebola virus is transferred through infectious bodily fluids, so foreign health officials took over disposing of the dead and developed a procedure to handle mass casualties. The African locals did not respond well to this practice, often resisting health officials’ efforts to bury the dead.

Anthropologists’ Observations

Anthropologists were tasked with understanding the locals’ resistance. Anthropologists discovered common practices and beliefs among locals:

  1. Handling of the body with the bare hands
  2. “Love Touch”: loved ones either touch the face or lie on top of the deceased in order to unify the living and ancestral spirits, and even receive spiritual gifts from the deceased.
  3. Importance of a proper burial: many locals believe in life after death. If a proper burial does not occur, then the deceased cannot achieve spirithood, and therefore the angry spirit will return and punish the living relatives.
  4. Mistrust of government: foreign health officials had to have communicated with the government to assist, so many Africans thought their governments did not respect them. As a result, many locals mistrusted their leaders and did not want to comply.

Solution

Anthropologists realized that in isolating deceased Ebola victims, the health officials were dishonoring locals’ culture and beliefs. Anthropologists relayed these findings to policymakers, who formed coalitions with government officials, tribal and religious leaders in order to come up with burial techniques that would honor the dead and living while halting Ebola.  As a result, locals allowed their leaders and foreign officials to assist and Ebola transmission slowed. It was one of the first times that foreign health officials recognized that religious and cultural practices and political beliefs strongly influence health promotion techniques on an epidemic level. They adjusted their procedures accordingly.

Evaluation

It was important to recognize the cultural factors at play, but was recognition and adjustment too late? How many have to die before world aid organizations adjust their policies and procedures to accommodate many different cultures and societies? Although these organizations are powerful, they sometimes adopt a “savior” mentality, and forget that they can still learn. Another outbreak could happen: public safety is of great importance, but so is cultural relativism.

Works Cited:

Manguvo, Angellar and Benford Mafuvadze.”The Impact of Traditional and Religious Practices on Spread of Ebola in West Africa.” The Pan African Medical Journal. Vol 22 Issue 9. 10 October 2015. Accessed 12 March 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4709130/

Maxmen, Amy. “How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions.” National Geographic. 30 Jan 2015. Accessed 12 March 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/150130-ebola-virus-outbreak-epidemic-sierra-leone-funerals/

Refugees in Germany

There is currently a big problem with the countless Syrian refugees that have nowhere to go. Many countries claim that there is no room or no opportunities for these people in their land. When I first heard about this issue I was appalled, there was no space in my mind for the idea that there was no space for others. How could so many people turn their backs on those in need. I was called out by my boyfriend, he is German and his family is dealing everyday with the issue of these displaced people.

The way that he explained it was that there are so many people that need help and that his country is physically unable to clothe them, shelter them, and generally care for that many people. He patiently explained the delicate economy of different countries and how difficult it is to keep them in balance with an increase of workers. Slowly, these people started becoming statistics in my mind.

Recently I received an image from his mother that once again created a very real image of people in my mind. There is so little space in the refugee shelters that there is no longer space for people with small children. The picture that I had received was an image of a women, a man, and a baby.  The couple had nowhere to go with their newborn because they were told that there was no place for them in the shelter. My boyfriends mother, as well as others in the area are taking people such as these into their homes and giving them even an ounce of hope for the future. This has sparked a sort of happiness inside of me, although it is necessary to be careful people are always willing to help one another.

Pray for All

Three days ago, a massive terrorist attack took place in various locations in Paris, France. About 130 were killed and roughly 350 were injured. The entire world had something to say about this, and everyone with a working Internet connection heard. Within hours of the attack, my entire Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds were flooded with pictures and comments regarding the event. My friends and acquaintances spoke of their solidarity with France; about how today (referring to the day after the attack) “we all are French”; most of them even changed their profile pictures to have a filter of the French flag so as to demonstrate their support for the French people. Even President Obama released a statement on the night of the attack where he expressed his outrage and pledged his and the American people’s alliance to the French people.

Just one day before the events in Paris took place, a massive terrorist attack was staged in Beirut, Lebanon leaving 43 dead and 250 injured. The morning of the Paris attacks, 18 were left dead and 41 were left injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Baghdad, Iraq. Either the world was literally left speechless as a result of these two occurrences, or the events simply were not important enough to publicize all over news and social media. It is needless to say that the latter was the case. I speak for myself as well as many others when I say that I knew absolutely nothing about these attacks, despite how horrendous they were. In fact, it was not until after the Paris incidents that I heard of the Beirut and Baghdad attacks.

So what are we seeing here? Well simply put: when a western country or western civilization is threatened, we interpret those threats as strikes towards our own values and towards ourselves; we thus raise up our voices and vow to stand in the way of any harm that may come to our culture and the people who make it up. However, when an attack falls upon the other cultures of the world, we see an attack on something that is not our own, and so we remain silent. But why? Is this because other cultures are less important or less worthy than our culture? And if so, then what makes our culture so worthy of our fight and solidarity and what is it that makes other cultures undeserving of these efforts? These terrorist attacks are but a small window into the problems of this world and the role that western supremacy has taken in the lives of the American people. Yes, I pray for Paris and mourn the victims of the Parisian attacks, but I also pray for Beirut and for Baghdad, whose victims, much like the Parisians, did not deserve such a fate.

References:

The Attack on Paris

By now most people have seen the news that Friday night there was a terror attack in Paris. I can only imagine what the people of France and specifically are feeling this morning. This morning when I signed onto my social media accounts I notices a few things that people were posting about the attacks, “stand with paris,” “Paris is in our prays”,  and interestingly enough I saw post that related to how Paris, France reacted to 9/11 and how we should show the same support they showed us. I then when onto the New York Time website and in enlarged letters stays, “Hollande-Blames ISIS for ‘Act of War’ on Paris”.

The article talks about how the president of France is taking on the situation. France has gone into a three day grieving period. According to the New York Times article, they are almost certain that ISIS an Islamic extremist group is behind the attacks. Hollande states that they are prepared to begin fighting if necessary within the guidelines of the law. I am sure as the next few days pass there will be more evidence and information revealed about the attacks but for now it is a time of reflection and mourning for the people involved.

Currently it is believed that 127 people are dead and more than 200 people have been hospitalized. In class we have discussed the idea that we have ritualized death as a way of grieving and it allows us to find a way to move on. Do we have a ritual for death when it comes to terror attacks. In the post 9/11 world the term terror attacks has been used mainly to describe an attack made by extremist groups on certain countries. The United States especially New Yorkers, I being one of them remember quiet well that day when all things changed in New York. How do people grieve the deaths of innocent individuals killed in such attacks? Does the pain ever go away?

I personally have never first hand experience a death due to a terror attack or suspected terror attack so I couldn’t answer those questions. But as the world becomes a more dangerous place I think it is important for ritual to be implemented to allow family and friends to grieve these losses in a way that is health and respectful. I could only imagine how difficult it may be to grieve a person whose body may not even be recoverable. Similar to that of a solider who dies in combat and the only thing that can be found of theirs is the dog tags.

Paris is in our hearts and prayers during their time of need. This is just one example of what people have been posting throughout social media since the attack occurred.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/paris-terrorist-attacks.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=span-abc-region&region=span-abc-region&WT.nav=span-abc-region&_r=0

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Save the Planet, Kill Yourself

Over the past few weeks I’ve been really into researching religious zealots and cults (brought on by this Netflix documentary called Jesus Camp –10/10 would recommend) and I just read an article about one group in particular that shocked me a little more than all the rest. The Church of Euthanasia was founded in the mid-1990s by an ex-DJ named Chris Korda, who says the church’s guiding principle is “Thou shalt not procreate.” Apparently, Korda and her followers (of which there were more than I had hoped) were so worried about climate change and overpopulation that they decided to start a movement based solely on encouraging people to die.

A Church of Euthanasia protest for abortion

“Fetuses AREN’T People. They aren’t even CHICKENS. Who Cares?”

 

The Church of Euthanasia gained traction by protesting at major political events, including the 1992 Democratic National Convention, where they popularized their slogan, “Save the Planet, Kill Yourself.” This fits in nicely with the four pillars of their religion, which are as follows: “Suicide (optional but encouraged), abortion (may be required to avoid procreation), cannibalism (mandatory if you insist on eating flesh, but only if someone is already dead), and sodomy (optional, but strongly encouraged).” It seems as though the CoE was trying to get rid of the Earth’s population through every way possible, except outright homicide. Side note: I’m a little unsure of where cannibalism fits into the whole philosophy, but I guess that by consuming dead bodies you’re freeing up space for other activities???

The part that really shocked me was the hotline the Church attempted to set up, which would have provided round the clock instructions for people looking to commit suicide. It’s kind of a cruel twist of fate, because suicide hotlines are normally resources used to prevent suicide, not to encourage it. I really couldn’t believe that people’s lives meant so little to the members of this group that they were willing to encourage this sort of behavior for the sake of an imperceptible amount of extra breathing room on the planet.

I was expecting a disclaimer at the end of the article, something along the lines of, “Korda, along with her most loyal followers, committed suicide in 1995..,” but there was none. The founder of the Church of Euthanasia, who had no problem telling everyone else it was their duty to die, is still living today. Whether that means she felt she needed to be here to keep up the mission, or if the whole thing was just some elaborate hoax, I don’t know.

Link to article: http://www.vice.com/read/save-the-planet-kill-yourself-the-contentious-history-of-the-church-of-euthanasia-1022

This article is part of a Vice News column called “Post Mortem” and there are some really great pieces on there as well!

http://www.vice.com/series/post-mortem-with-simon-davis

 

 

 

Emory Shooting

In the past two years the threat of a school shooting has gone up by 158%. Social media allows students to send messages faster and to a greater audience. Last weekend, fall break 2015, a 21 year old Oxford student sent a threat through Yik Yak saying “I’m shooting up the school. Tomorrow. Stay in your rooms. The ones on the quad are the ones who will go first.”

I want to discuss why have student become more prone to this violence? Is death being taken more lightly because it is so much easier to purchase a gun? Is it because we see these killing occur all around the country so often? I am not sure. It seems to me that these occurrences seem like a fantasy until they occur close to you. I was personally taken aback by the whole thing. After watching the video it made me angry how lightheartedly the students took the threat. It is said that the threat was a joke, but killing is not a joke. The students who were interviewed kept laughing as they answered the questions, one even claimed that he had not taken it seriously. All of it is fun and games until parents end up mourning their children.

To the young adults of today it was common to see threats and death everywhere in the news, it was simple to become numb. Television brainwashes this generation into becoming blind to the cries of people on the screen. It has become such a problem that they are no longer morally repulsed by the idea of getting a gun and murdering their fellow students. There are so many issues surrounding this movement of violence; the ease of getting a gun, the ability to shoot it, the idea of going on a website and posting the plans. It seems to me that the people who keep shooting up schools are drawn to posting things online announcing it, all they want is recognition in a sea of people. The problem being how do we stop this.

http://www.ajc.com/videos/news/student-arrested-after-shooting-threat-at-oxford/vDcWyx/

“I Had To Eat a Piece of My Friend to Survive”

On October 13th, 1972, the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes mountain range in South America. There was a total of 45 passengers on the flight, and only 27 passengers survived the initial crash. Rescue parties searched extensively and after 10 days, the passengers were presumed dead and the search ceased.

Survivors desperately began to search for resources. These efforts soon became fruitless, as they continued to search on the snow covered mountain that lacked any natural vegetation or livestock. Under harsh weather conditions, the survivors were soon faced with a difficult and unforgiving choice. As a group, they made the collective decision to eat the flesh of their dead friends. Nando Parrado, one of the survivors states, “again and again I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock” (Miracle In the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home). 

"Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo."

“Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo.”

What I found interesting was that the surviving passengers were all Roman Catholics, and initially, they were against the act of cannibalism,  but soon realized it was their only means of survival. They began to justify their actions with bible verses and compared the act of eating their dead friends to the rituals present in the Holy Communion. By using religious context to condone their behavior, it decreased their levels of guilt and humiliation. Many argued that the pain experienced by their loved ones would be more severe than the act of dying itself.

One of the survivors of the crash was a second year medical student, Roberto Canessa, who had successfully managed to objectify the deceased loved ones into sources of protein and fat. My question is, at what point do your friends and colleagues transform into simple cadavers, despite extreme conditions? Every individual has the right to be buried with dignity and in accordance with their personal beliefs, because even in death, they still maintain their identity as a human being.

 

 

 

http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/the-story-of-the-andes-survivors.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2217141/I-eat-piece-friend-survive-Torment-1972-Andes-plane-crash-survivor-haunted-ordeal-40-years-later.html

MCI’s

As an EMT volunteer for Emergency Medical Services, I have learned much about preparation for catastrophes, what we call multiple casualty incidents (MCIs). Just the other day, we worked together with the the fire department, hazardous material unit, county ambulance services, and police for a MCI simulation where we more or less practiced working in an unexpected catastrophe, natural and manmade. These simulations are as real as they can be with “‘blood, guts, and galore”, screaming people, chaos and more. I have participated in a variety of simulations as a patient, medic, and observer. When we first come onto an incident, it is our job to save as many people as we can, but to not waste time with people who require more than the basic care. Triaging is classifying people as green, yellow, red, and black. As a medic, the hardest thing to deal with in these situations is triaging someone black because black means death or dying. In mass catastrophes, this could mean that someone is still alive, but won’t make it under the current situation. The person could be still screaming for help, but if their body is severed in half, we are to label a person black and move on to the next victim. This is traumatizing for all parties, both the medic and for the dying person.

I think this is just a small illustration of how mass catastrophes can drastically affect life. Just the seemingly endless amount of death and dying coupled with chaos and confusion changes the face of death. Maybe this is why our media is obsessed with apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and the “end of the world”. These themes have permeated everything from movies to music to books. Recently, the CDC published information on how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. While funny and portrayed in a mildly joking manner, the point is to educate people on preparing for disasters including wars, terrorist attacks, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. (11_225700_A_Zombie_Final). If you go through the comic, it is a little funny, but the simple idea of a MCI has taken off in a variety of ways that have people thinking about the changes needed to deal with so many bodies at once.

What do you think? How do you think our society understands MCIs? How do we deal with mass death on an emotional and physical level?

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Only 3 Dead? News Coverage of Death

Super Typhoon Haiyan: Only 3 Dead? News Coverage of Death

 

Hundreds of Philippinos Seek Shelter from Massive Storm

How many people died? That’s the first thing on everyone’s minds as they hear of exotic natural disasters reported on the news. I wonder why this is the case? Why is there such an emphasis on the number of deaths, that make these things more scary/more of a tragedy? Isn’t the destruction of major infrastructure and homes enough? Do we expect people to die?

http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/08/world/asia/philippines-typhoon-haiyan/?hpt=hp_t1

In the CNN Article posted at 8:48 this morning, The storm is reported as being one of the strongest ever, that has hit over the past night in the Phillipines. It is state that the level of damage has not been assessed, but that the . The article states that “90% of the infrastructure and establishments have already been heavily damaged,” but the scary part is that the heaviest part of the storm has not hit yet. Though the article has a suspenseful tone, it seems as though there is almost is a silent emphasis on the death toll. The three people who died are mentioned, but throughout out the article, there are subtle hints that allude to the idea that they expect more to die.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57611452/philippines-battered-by-monster-typhoon-haiyan-at-least-4-killed/

About 30 minutes later, another article was posted about this, titled: Philippines battered by monster Typhoon Haiyan; at least 4 killed. I suspect that many articles with these provocative titles will be posted throughout the next couple of days. This is more interesting, I suppose. This makes me think about death tolls and the impact that they have on the understandings of these disasters. As we discussed in class, the Tsunami about ten years ago was seen as so horrible because of the alarming amounts of people who were dead. Also the situation was so horrible because it took everyone by surprise and the town was not prepared.

This in not the case for Haiyan, as it has been established that the country is prepared, and was aware of the storm. Though there has been extensive damage, more than 700,000 people were able to be evacuated prior to the storm. Because of this preparedness, I suspect that the death toll won’t reach proportions as high as other disasters. It can’t be ignored that there are currently winds blowing at 147 miles per hour and there are millions of people in the Philippines that are currently endangered. I think we would say that we desire for the death toll to stay at 4, but I wonder if this is really the case? Would it be a better story if it was 5?

Chemical Weapons and Mass Killing in Syria

For the past few weeks, we have watched history in the making.  After the August 21st attack outside of Damascus, in which it has become clear that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons, President Obama spoke of the impetus for the U.S. to militarily intervene in Syria.  Though the “Syrian Crisis” now seems to be on the wane and President Obama has modified his approach, the crisis raised serious questions about the nature and means of death.

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-31/world/41642428_1_chemical-weapons-syria-james-martin-center

Syria has been locked in a deadly civil war for over two years.  More than 100,000 people have died and millions have become refugees.  Yet, it was not until last month that President Obama warned the Assad regime not to cross a “red line,” a metaphorical humanitarian boundary.  The question is, do the means through which a regime murders its people matter?  Is there something fundamentally unthinkable about the use of chemical weapons?  According to a Huffington Post article (See below), not more than 500 casualties were observed from the chemical attacks.  Therefore, is this adequate justification for military intervention?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/syria-death-toll_n_3912935.html

Without launching a debate on politics or U.S. foreign policy, I would like to discuss the implications of chemical weapons.  They seem to represent monstrous mass killing, not seen since the trench warfare of the first world war.  But they also hold a moral weight.  The argument appears to be that death is not just death, rather, the means matter.  There is something intrinsically horrific about extermination via gas.  President Obama used this idea, when he described children writhing in pain from chemical gas attacks.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2013/sep/17/us-obama-text/

The real question, then, is whether the means of death can be compared.  Are specific methods, such as chemical gas, absolutely immoral?  Do they justify U.S. retaliation via airstrike, which would presumably result in much larger civilian casualties, or can we accept that death is death, measurable in scale, but whose means do not matter?