One of the articles this week, Sterilizing Vaccines or the Politics of the Womb: A Retrospective Study of a Rumor in Cameroon, authored among others by Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg, looks at the rumor that spread in Cameroon that the vaccine used to prevent neonatal tetanus was in fact a sterilization injection. One of the believed reasons for this miscommunication is that the campaign took place near the time of talks of family planning and the changes in population policy by the state to legalize contraception. (pg 2)
As the article says, girls were running out the door and jumping through windows to escape from being “sterilized” by those trying to help them. This may sound ridiculous, but in an area where family is so important and the people hear that overpopulation is a problem, it seems natural that women would be wary of a mystery injection. In many places, the people preforming health aid are from the developed world. We must not forget the shared sense of history many developing areas feel in regards to colonialism, because they sure haven’t. To be honest, I think it makes a lot of sense to be hesitant to put so much trust in outsiders when history has shown a disappointing track-record. It slows down progress for health in some ways, because like in this case, the vaccine was for neonatal tetanus, but this shows a need for those administering it to have greater empathy to their worries and understand their misgivings. Communication is most important.
This mistrust of foreign health can be seen elsewhere, like in the cases of people not trusting ORTs (Oral Rehydration Treatments) for diarrheal disease. It may be frustrating to know that if a child were just permitted to take the ORTs, their diarrhea would be drastically reduced and the chance of survival skyrockets. However, it is not an indifference on the part of the mother to refuse these treatments, it is the opposite. They are doing what they believe is necessary to protect their already sick children. We need to improve relations with those people who may believe us to do harm, and promote greater communication across cultures.