Mmegi Online :: The ‘ebolarisation’ of our culture
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The ‘ebolarisation’ of our culture

As the deadly disease spreads further from its West African epicentre intensifying its threat on Botswana and the rest of the world, Staff Writer NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE shares the impact Ebola is having on time-honoured cultural norms
By Nnasaretha Kgamanyane Fri 12 Dec 2014, 13:32 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: The ‘ebolarisation’ of our culture








Even though Ebola has not affected Botswana yet, one wonders what would happen if at all the deadly virus came knocking.

The disease, which is spread via contact with bodily secretions of the infected, has already ridden on the back of cultural rites in West Africa, in order to multiply.

Stories abound of instances where families and friends in Sierra Leone fight off health officials for access to the infected, preferring instead to administer their own traditional medicines and care.

Some families even deny the disease’s existence, meaning they blithely continue risky practices such as bathing and kissing their infected relatives.

The deadly virus has ripped through West African populations, surfing on the wave of cultural rigidity and scepticism, a cocktail of factors that unfortunately can also be found on local soils.

Some of the cultural practices at our funerals, for instance, clearly pose a great threat should Ebola ever come this way.  When loved ones are ill, it is normal in Botswana for family and relatives to take care of them from their sickbeds until they die. This includes feeding, bathing and even wiping off whatever needs to be. This is when the carer handles the ailing in direct contact – thus be exposed to the body fluids such as sweat.The dead are highly respected in local culture and families will generally make multiple trips to mortuaries for one purpose or the other.

The dead are bathed, touched, dressed and at times, are applied make-up. Some people believe it is important to kiss the dead relative to bid them farewell.

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral and as usual, the people were very cordial.

They shook hands, hugged, and cooked food for communal consumption in big pots, as has always been the case. Even though many washed their hands, the way they did this had me wondering just how clean their hands actually were.

Few washed their hands vigorously and many just waved through the water as if making their hands wet was enough.

After the burial, as people queued to wash their hands in a washing basin with water mixed with traditional herb called mosimama, at the entrance of the

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yard, it opted out.

While nowadays, many Christian families present water without the herbs, the custom is done so that mourners feel cleansed of the death; leaving it uninvited to their homes.

Early on the second day after the funeral, it was time for the cleansing ceremony. Although I was in the queue to bathe, I opted out at the last minute when I realised that every woman was using the same bath. In addition, the bath was not thoroughly cleaned and I decided I would take a bath later at home.

After hearing how the disease has riddled populations across Africa, with the same practices we have, I have decided to become extra careful. I fear that if Ebola was to cross into Botswana, our cultural practices may expose us to the disease.

Cognisant of this, the Ministry of Health has roped in traditional leaders to its public education campaigns which are aimed at firstly, preventing the virus’ entry into Botswana, and secondly, halting its spread if it ever enters.

“There’s need for a lot of communication and we have come up with information, education and advocacy as part of the National Epidemic Response Committee,” Health Ministry deputy permanent secretary, Shenaaz El-Halabi said in August, when announcing travel bans from Ebola-affected areas.

“We need to discuss these issues at Dikgotla with dikgosi so that practices such as oiling dead bodies, are stopped in the event of an outbreak.

“We have to educate people on what do and what not to do when someone has died of Ebola. “I believe if the nation realises the dangers of this disease and its fatality, they will help us come up with infection control procedures.”

A public health specialist at the Ministry, Nesredin Jami, adds that Batswana should avoid contact when travelling across Africa.

“It is important to avoid contact with other people in this crucial time of Ebola.

“We can see that the virus continues to spread and kill people in other parts of Africa.

“We know that you might be married, have friends or relatives in the affected countries but it is very important to be conscious at times like this,” he urges.

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