The Forest through the Trees: Themes in Social Production of Health

Recently Professor Ayodele S Jegede of the Faculty of Social Sciences, delivered the 419th Inaugural Lecture at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, during the 2016/2017 academic session.  Below Prof. Jegede shares an abstract of his lecture.

Prof Ayodele S Jegede

Knowledge of individual actor’s behaviour is a reflection of the society as tree to the forest. As forest produces large quantities of oxygen and takes in carbon dioxide, society produces the needed resources for human beings to survive through culture. This inter-dependence between man and the environment is summarised by the Yoruba adage which says: “irorun igi ni irorun eye” (meaning: a bird’s peace depends on the peace enjoyed by the tree which harbours it).

Nigeria, a country with a population of about 187 million and a life expectancy of 53 years, 54% of the populace are living below the poverty line with limited access to health care services physically and economically. Although universal health coverage is vital to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cultural perception of disease aside from loss of economic and low purchasing power makes people to attribute their illnesses to spiritual cause and therefore seek alternative health care services. This influences resistance to public health interventions in some African communities resulting in suspicion and distrust between health educators and the public.

Strengthening Health Information Systems

For instance, response to childhood immunizable diseases, mental illness, malaria and HIV/AIDS reported in this lecture was driven by how people define the diseases. Their response did result in delay in seeking modern health care until alternative care sources proved ineffective. This confirms W.I. Thomas (1929: 572) postulation that, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”.

Our stakeholders’ engagement interventions strategies strengthened by knowledge of how people construct their life, socially and culturally, proved to be a potent vaccine for preventing strain relationship between health workers and clients. Since society consists of individuals who constitute the stakeholders conducting health researches as well as management of epidemics and treatment during epidemics and disease episodes require appropriate ethical behaviours.

This suggests that adequate knowledge of the society is inevitable since a tree does not make a forest which confirms Marx Weber’s Action Theory postulation that an act does not become social unless it involves two or more persons. It is, therefore, that government should establish National Disease Observatory System (NDOS) to document diseases by type, location and related local practices for training health care professionals, clinical practice and emergencies preparedness.

Note also that the lecture was featured in the New Nigerian Newspaper with an emphasis on establishing a national disease observatory.  The Nigerian Tribune also featured the lecture stressing the importance of disease emergency preparedness.

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