Rumours in Africa hurt vaccination campaigns

By Meaghan Carrier

The University of Alberta’s Dr. Amy Kaler shared Africa’s struggle with vaccination efforts on campus last week. Her guest lecture focused on reproductivity, rumours and counter-epistemic convergence in contemporary Africa.

Failure to reproduce in certain countries or among certain social groups is the most primal political threat to the continuity of community, argued Kaler.

“The inability to reproduce is a determinant of an individual’s distress,” she said. “There is a fear in underprivileged countries of the vaccinations the government brings in. They fear it will make them infertile.”

When young girls refuse a vaccine because of a rumour, whole operations are shut down and the fight to rid humanity of disease is slowed. “These rumours are treated as a glitch in the communication process,” said Kaler. “Vaccinations are target to rumours because there is a justified absence in trust.”

The world population is a strongly prenatal society and people understand that failure to reproduce poses a threat to our existence, claimed Kaler. In Cameroon in 1990, a campaign was set up to vaccinate all young women with the Tetanus Taxoid vaccine to prevent antenatal tetanus. The schoolgirls protested against the campaign, claiming that if they were vaccinated they would become sterile. An entire campaign to aid the health issue was abandoned because of a rumour whose origin is unknown.

Kaler described the societies who protest against immunization and vaccination as counter epistemic communities.

“It is a group that forms against a dominant epistemic community,” she said. “[These societies] are a result of the asymmetries of power, in which one collectivity understands itself as subordinate to the interests of another. This manner of thought is intrinsic to colonial and post-colonial world orders.”

When a dominant country walks into a third world country with needles and serums they claim contain the cure to disease, it is not always well received.

Kaler wants to see developed nations send people to speak with societies, calm their fears, address their concerns and educate the people before the rumours can be fashioned.

“Vaccination is positive, but tends to attract rumours with surprising intensity,” said Kaler. “The whole point of immunization is not immediately realized. I think the global public health work will continue to be hampered by rumours because, among the world’s minority populations, there is a justified absence of trust.”


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