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The puzzle of Buruli ulcer transmission, ethno-ecological history and the end of “love” in the Akonolinga district, Cameroon


  • Giles-Vernick, Tamara
  • Owona-Ntsama, Joseph
  • Landier, Jordi
  • Eyangoh, Sara


The “One World One Health Initiative” has attended little to the priorities, concepts and practices of resource-poor communities confronting disease and the implications of these concerns for its biomedical, ecological and institutional approach to disease surveillance and control. Using the example of Buruli ulcer (BU) and its bacterial etiology, Mycobacterium ulcerans, in south-central Cameroon, we build on debates about the contributions of “local knowledge” and “alternative models” to biomedical knowledge of disease transmission. BU's mode of transmission remains poorly understood. Our approach employs ethno-ecological histories – local understandings of the putative emergence and expansion of a locally important, neglected disease. We develop these histories from 52 individual and small group interviews, group discussions, and participant-observation of daily and seasonal activities, conducted in 2013–2013. These histories offer important clues about past environmental and social change that should guide further ecological, epidemiological research. They highlight a key historical moment (the late 1980s and 1990s); specific ecological transformations; new cultivation practices in unexploited zones that potentially increased exposure to M. ulcerans; and ecological degradation that may have lowered nutritional standards and heightened susceptibility to BU. They also recast transmission, broadening insight into BU and its local analog, atom, by emphasizing the role of social change and economic crisis in its emergence and expansion.

Suggested Citation

  • Giles-Vernick, Tamara & Owona-Ntsama, Joseph & Landier, Jordi & Eyangoh, Sara, 2015. "The puzzle of Buruli ulcer transmission, ethno-ecological history and the end of “love” in the Akonolinga district, Cameroon," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 20-27.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:129:y:2015:i:c:p:20-27
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.03.008

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Leach, Melissa & Scoones, Ian, 2013. "The social and political lives of zoonotic disease models: Narratives, science and policy," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 10-17.
    2. Sunderlin, William D & Pokam, Jacques, 2002. "Economic Crisis and Forest Cover Change in Cameroon: The Roles of Migration, Crop Diversification, and Gender Division of Labor," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 50(3), pages 581-606, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tschakert, Petra & Ricciardi, Vincent & Smithwick, Erica & Machado, Mario & Ferring, David & Hausermann, Heidi & Bug, Leah, 2016. "Situated knowledge of pathogenic landscapes in Ghana: Understanding the emergence of Buruli ulcer through qualitative analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 150(C), pages 160-171.


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