IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

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


  • Ramdas, Sahienshadebie


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

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    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.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:75:y:2012:i:6:p:1097-1105. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.