“All We Get is Malaria”: The Political Ecology of Landscape Change, Malaria and Cumulative Vulnerability in Central Ghana's Gold Mining Country

Authors: David Ferring*,
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa
Keywords: Cumulative vulnerability, political ecology, malaria, mental health, small-scale gold mining
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, small-scale gold mining operations proliferated worldwide, including along Ghana’s Offin River. Rural landscapes were radically transformed, including disruptions of agricultural land-uses and surface hydrology, with adverse health outcomes. Yet, previous research has focused primarily on the health of miner populations. Further, studies of disease dynamics wrought by landscape change typically produce individualized constructions of risk that are abstracted from social forces influencing vulnerability to (ill)health. Based on long-term, mixed methods research, this paper details how socio-ecological outcomes of mining—from food insecurity and water logged pits to mercury contamination—combine and accumulate to increase local malaria incidence. These changes interact with existing structural and social conditions and biological susceptibilities to render women and children most vulnerable to malaria in increasingly pathogenic mining landscapes. Moreover, mental health profoundly shapes malaria incidence and, countering individualized constructions of risk, family members’ health is deeply interconnected. This paper contributes to current geographic debates in several ways. First, a cumulative vulnerability approach helps scholars conceptualize the ways biological, structural and social conditions interrelate to shape humans’ conjunctural vulnerabilities along axes of difference, particularly in health contexts. Moreover, this work highlights the importance of materiality in mediating vulnerability and local malaria dynamics. Finally, this paper calls for more scholarly attention to familial relationships of care and mental health, heretofore unexplored topics in political ecologies of health.

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