At SAS Seminar, Public Health Researcher Faults Negligence of Social Context of Diseases

At SAS Seminar, Public Health Researcher Faults Negligence of Social Context of Diseases

A public health researcher has faulted Nigeria's health policy as "lacking attention to the social context of common diseases". 

On September 5, 2019, Dr. Aliyu Zakayo, who is a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs of the Harvard Kennedy School in the US, presented the first SAS seminar this semester, "Love in the Time of Cholera: understanding the hidden structural violence of poverty." 

In the presentation, he posited that cholera tends to be more prevalent in poverty-ridden communities.

Adamawa State, he added, is endemic for cholera, meaning that more than the seasonal outbreaks of the disease occur there. 

He stressed that the presence of cholera underlines a persistent pathology beyond what he explained as "the perversity of the environment." 

Often, there are usually social forces that prevent people from doing the needful that could bring about improvement of their health, he argued, lamenting that "what is thought of and expected is not what is obtainable." 

He, therefore, maintains that there is a need to pay more attention to the social context in which diseases occur.

"Many a time we exaggerate agency without thinking of the structural violence. We need to move from exaggerating agency to understanding and mitigating structural violence."

As a researcher who has been in the field investigating causes of diseases, he has had to look at how women, for instance, receive health care. What he was faced with were women who struggled to survive – no food, no shelter.

Not much attention was paid to the social context of their ailments. This experience set off his career in social research focused at the intersection of health and security in Nigeria's northeast.

A graduate in Global Health Delivery at the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Zakayo spearheads research relevant to the conflict setting of the northeast. His research interest is the use of social technology solutions. 

Professor Jennifer Vincent-Tyndall of NES said she invited her students to the seminar because it is relevant to what they learn in BIO 250 (Global Health) taught by her. Two of her students who graduated two years ago are currently being mentored by the Harvard researcher. 

She said Dr. Zakayo is also helping current students who want to study abroad in gaining opportunities for scholarships.

Reported by Omorogbe Omorogiuwa