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Cruel disease, cruel medicine: Self-treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis with harmful chemical substances in Suriname

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  • Ramdas, Sahienshadebie

Abstract

Why are potentially harmful, non-biomedical chemical substances, such as battery acid, chlorine, herbicides, and insecticides, used in the treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL)? What drives people to use these products as medicine? This article is about perceptions of CL, and the quest for a cure, in Suriname, South America. It highlights the associative style of reasoning behind health seeking and discusses the use of harmful chemical substances as medicines. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease, affects 1 to 1.5 million people globally. It has a spectrum of clinical manifestations, but the most prominent and disfiguring elements are extensive dermatological ulceration and scar formation from lesions. The data upon which this article is based are derived from anthropological research carried out in different parts of Suriname between September 2009 and December 2010. Data was collected through mainly qualitative methods, including interviewing 205 CL patients using structured questionnaires at the Dermatological Service in the capital Paramaribo. Almost all people with CL said they tried self-treatment, varying from the use of ethno-botanical products to non-biomedical chemical solutions. This article presents and interprets the views and practices of CL patients who sought treatment using harsh chemicals. It argues that a confluence of contextual factors – environmental, occupational, infrastructural, geographical, socio-cultural, economic, socio-psychological – leads to the use of harmful chemical substances to treat CL sores. This study is the first in Suriname – and one of the few done globally – focusing on social and cultural aspects related to CL health seeking. It aims to encourage health policy makers and health professionals to carefully initiate, provide, and evaluate CL treatment and prevention programs.

Suggested Citation

  • Ramdas, Sahienshadebie, 2012. "Cruel disease, cruel medicine: Self-treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis with harmful chemical substances in Suriname," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(6), pages 1097-1105.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:6:p:1097-1105
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.038
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nichter, Mark & Vuckovic, Nancy, 1994. "Agenda for an anthropology of pharmaceutical practice," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 39(11), pages 1509-1525, December.
    2. repec:aph:ajpbhl:2000:90:1:36-46_8 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Etkin, Nina L. & Ross, Paul J. & Muazzamu, Ibrahim, 1990. "The indigenization of pharmaceuticals: Therapeutic transitions in rural Hausaland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 30(8), pages 919-928, January.
    4. Young, James C. & Garro, Linda Young, 1982. "Variation in the choice of treatment in two Mexican communities," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 16(16), pages 1453-1465, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ramdas, Sahienshadebie & van der Geest, Sjaak & Schallig, Henk D.F.H., 2016. "Nuancing stigma through ethnography: the case of cutaneous leishmaniasis in Suriname," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 151(C), pages 139-146.

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