Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare

Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare

Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare

Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare

Synopsis

"Ten years ago, cholera 'raced' through part of eastern Venezuela, moving along social fault lines long in the making. This harrowing and beautifully written account chronicles a complex array of social responses to an epidemic and shows us what an engaged and responsible anthropology can offer those seeking to understand and prevent such plagues--and the injustices that foster them. Stories in the Time of Cholera is sure to have broad appeal within the social sciences and public health, and it should be required reading for public authorities and the press, whose prejudices clearly compounded the injuries meted out by the microbe itself. This is an exceedingly important book."--Paul Farmer, author of "Infections and Inequalities

"Sometimes the historian can only envy the ethnographer's ability to observe and configure complex social and conceptual worlds. This study of cholera constitutes one of those occasions: I can only admire the authors' ability to unravel class, attitudinal, and institutional relationships, using social responses to cholera as their sampling device."--Charles E. Rosenberg, author of "Explaining Epidemics"

Excerpt

Writing this book has been painful, sometimes downright depressing. It relates stories of the epidemic of cholera that took place in eastern Venezuela in 1992–1993 and the violent, uncanny deaths that resulted. This research project seemed to come looking for us, rather than the other way around. Clara Mantini-Briggs had been working as a public health physician in Tucupita, the capital of Delta Amacuro state, for only four months when the epidemic began. Having studied cholera firsthand earlier in 1992 in Apure and Zulia states, she took a major role in directing efforts to end the epidemic. She was right in the middle of the bodies, IVs, buckets of diarrhea, and tireless community leaders that we describe in this book. Charles Briggs had worked in the delta since 1986, and in November 1992 he discovered the epidemic during a short visit to Tucupita. He returned in June 1993 to assist in setting up health education and treatment programs that centered on cholera prevention. That's when we met. That summer we inaugurated a pilot program in Mariusa, the area in which Charles had worked intensely and which had been severely affected by the disease.

By 1994 it was apparent that little was being done to prevent future epidemics. “The Warao, ” as the indigenous population is known, had been blamed for the outbreak. In 1994 and 1995, we traversed virtually the entire fluvial area. In addition to giving talks on how to prevent cholera and other infectious diseases, we asked who had died in each community and explored perceptions of the causes and effects of the epidemic. We came to believe that trying to figure out why so many people had died from a preventable and easily treated disease and then making our conclusions widely available constituted one of the most important means of trying to keep the cycle of death and inaction from being repeated. Cholera narratives circulated far beyond the delta, so we traveled to Caracas, Washington, D. C. . . .

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