Ebola – why it’s a woman-killing plague

Sierra Leone Ebola epicentre

Anyone not familiar with the Mars Needs Women trope, it’s a society that lacks women and therefore needs to obtain them from elsewhere in order to procreate and avoid extinction. How those societies come about in fiction is rarely explained in any real detail.

However, I immediately thought of Maddy Barone’s Woman-killer Plague in her After the Crash series in which the majority of women are wiped out, leaving the rest vulnerable to kidnapping, rape and sexual slavery. For reasons of safety every female, young or old, is restricted to their homes under armed guard. Feminism can’t exactly flourish under those circumstances.

Anyway, I’ve always wondered how and why a plague would claim more female victims than male. That is until I read this article by the Guardian.

‘Women make up 51% of Sierra Leone’s population’ yet make up 60% of Ebola fatalities. In Liberia it’s 75%. Why are those numbers so high? Because women are the designated carers of the sick, whether they be relatives in their own homes or strangers in hospitals. Nurses and healthcare assistants, female dominated professions, are more plentiful than doctors and whose exposure to infected patients and their bodily fluids is much, much higher. Culturally, women are also the ones to carry out funeral rites which involves touching the corpses. 60% of Ebola cases were infected in this way.

Liberia has 51 doctors to serve the country’s 4.2 million people (an average of 0.1 doctor per 10,000 people) and 136 for Sierra Leone’s population of six million (an average of 0.2 per 10,000), according to data compiled by the Afri-Dev.Info health and social development agency. – BBC News

Healthcare is practically non-existent in these countries. They’re home to some of the lowest literacy rates and life expectancies in the world. Add to that the fact that Africa is an incubator for infectious disease originating in wild animals who are then slaughtered for bush meat, most likely handled and cooked by women, and you have a perfect storm.

Perhaps if the millions, if not billions, spent on African aid had been used in part to set up widely accessible, quality education and healthcare this outbreak of Ebola could’ve been contained. Even running it independently of possibly corrupt governments, if need be. While not entirely altruistic both the world and these impoverished countries would benefit.

image credit: 69583224@N05

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