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|Health and Disease in West Africa
Missionaries were among the first Europeans to introduce western medicine to Africa on any permanent basis. Though European barbers (who served as surgeons) stationed at the Europeans forts and castles along the coast of West Africa offered medical services to Africans who approached them, this was infrequent and their medical knowledge was often inadequate. African therapies provided systematic health care, and this was complemented from the nineteenth century by European missionaries. African therapies were limited when it came to surgery and internal medicine. Missionary medical accounts indicate the awesome effect of cataract surgeries on Africans. For European missionaries, healing and conversion went hand-in-hand, emulating the pattern set by Christ. E-30.32.062 shows a woman with a huge growth between her legs (elephantiasis). The size of this outgrowth will have hindered this woman in the performance of her social responsibilities. Being "ill" was defined socially in African communities, and differed sometimes from the western perception of disease. In Akan society, for example, a man or woman had to marry and reproduce children to be considered as an adult, who had fulfilled his or her social responsibilities to the community. To be infertile or barren was seen as being "ill," as one was prevented from fulfilling one's social responsibilities even though the person might be free from disease (in terms of the presence of parasites or viruses). In E-30.32.64 we see a female cancer patient. It is unlikely that anything could have been done for this patient in African therapy, just as biomedicine was equally limited then in the treatment of cancer. But science-based western medecine was undergoing a germ revolution from the late nineteenth century as the microscope enabled the identification of microscopic parasites and the development of vaccines enabled doctors to deliver a "magic bullet" to cure particular diseases. The Korle Bu Teaching Hospital was founded in Accra (Gold Coast) in 1925, and it remains the leading hospital that delivers biomedicine in Ghana. Before the founding of the University of Ghana Medical School, Korle Bu Hospital trained African dispensers and nurses.
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