African Medical Pluralism

African Medical Pluralism

African Medical Pluralism

African Medical Pluralism

Synopsis

In most places on the African continent, multiple health care options exist and patients draw on a therapeutic continuum that ranges from traditional medicine and religious healing to the latest in biomedical technology. The ethnographically based essays in this volume highlight African ways of perceiving sickness, making sense of and treating suffering, and thinking about health care to reveal the range and practice of everyday medicine in Africa through historical, political, and economic contexts.

Excerpt

William C. Olsen and Carolyn Sargent

How do individuals and communities make sense of disease in contemporary Africa? What medical options arise in the pursuit of health care? Where multiple healthcare options exist, patients may draw upon a therapeutic continuum, consisting of diverse medical modalities. Varied options address the same symptoms; and they may be utilized simultaneously or sequentially. These alternatives for medical intervention are not necessarily seen as contradictory; nor are they mutually exclusive. Rather, therapeutic choices represent a spectrum of valid therapeutic interventions. For example, one fourteen-year-old patient suffering from epilepsy consulted a diviner in rural Ghana in 2002. the patient’s course of treatment had included repeated visits to a large urban hospital, use of pharmaceuticals prescribed by physicians, attendance at healing churches in Kumasi, self-medication, prayer camps, anointing with oil, and consultation with a diviner. His family accompanied the boy. They received direction from other sources, advising the family about alternative approaches to healing. the diviner declared that epilepsy was the result of malevolent forces sent to the boy by a group of men and women who had stayed in the boy’s home some months previously. the visiting women envied the health of the boy, and they were said to have brought about the disease through their malfeasance. Doctors and hospitals were utilized to treat epilepsy; but in this case, involving mystical causation, their abilities were considered practically useless. the diviner subsequently blocked the witchcraft. He prescribed herbal remedies for the symptoms, which the family administered. They combined the herbs with all recommended pharmaceuticals from the hospital. the child’s symptoms consequently abated under this regimen.

As this case illustrates, sufferers and their kin draw on diverse healing modalities in search of working therapies. This volume presents scholarly approaches to the therapeutic continuum in sub-Saharan Africa. the continuum is a sliding scale of responses to disease—a spectrum ranging from biomedicine to various nonbiomedical personal and group choices. As we note in the case above, therapeutic choices are not mutually exclusive. in this volume, each author presents data gathered from onsite field locations to demonstrate how medical pluralism . . .

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