A lurch, a screech, my driver’s arm out the window banging on metal, a barrage of angry honks: I counted four near-misses and two streetside fights from the backseat of the taxi on my abnormally congested commute to work in Amman this morning. It is, not coincidentally, the first day of Ramadan. Sitting at 99 degrees Fahrenheit before noon, it’s no wonder frustrations were running high amongst those forsaking water during daytime hours in the desert.
As a religious and cultural phenomenon, Ramadan tends to dominate other standard obligations: work schedules may be shortened, and caregivers may switch to a nocturnal schedule to both prepare meals in a timely manner and to avoid hunger pains during daylight hours. What are the consequences of this month of fasting? About what you would expect:irritability skyrockets, psychomotor abilities deteriorate, and perceptual sensitivity is cut significantly. These effects are most often considered on the individual level — challenges of fasting to be overcome by faith and discipline — but they have dire health ramifications at the population level as well.
Rituals, both religious and cultural, are impossible to disentangle from the health of a community. Nowhere is this more evident at the moment than in West Africa, where the practice of washing bodies of the deceased prior to burial has not exempted victims of Ebola, helping to fuel an epidemic of unprecedented proportion. As a long-standing religious obligation, Ramadan isn’t exempt: just as with bubbly celebrations on New Year’s Eve on US roads or female genital mutilation across the globe, the holiday poses a number of health risks that ought to be confronted by health authorities in the region. Continue reading “Ramadan is a Public Health Hazard. How Can We Reduce the Risks?”