Panel 40

Suspicious Medical Matters

Panel organiser: Ulrika Trovalla, Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, Forum for Africa Studies, Uppsala University, Sweden.


In many African societies where trust has been eroded by economic harshness or social tensions, questions continuously arise about what is really going on behind the scene. This is especially true in matters of health, disease, and medicine, as they touch people where they are the most vulnerable. In these settings, suspicions multiply, involving neighbors as well as states, foreign countries as well as NGOs and pharmaceutical companies. Since bodies, information and matter have become increasingly mobile across the African continent and beyond, the same is true for medicines, diseases, and the narratives that surround them. Rumors and suspicions about diseases – their origins, victims, healers, and how they can be prevented or cured – travel quickly across nations, or indeed the African continent at large, through text messages and social media.

People’s stress of falling ill is made worse by their sense of suspicion towards institutions, healthcare providers and treatments, whether they are conventional or traditional, stemming from narratives and experiences of poorly run hospitals, incompetent doctors, and expired or counterfeit medicines. Absorbed into the body, medicines are also often suspect of being vehicles of malignant intent beyond mere capitalist greed, such as poisons prepared by enemies. Similarly, suspicion is directed towards the origin and spread of diseases, whom they affect and how they enter the body. These suspicions become real in the way they shape people’s actions – their everyday choices. No matter if it is the state, donors, producers or sellers of medicine, healthcare providers, patients or ordinary citizen they all have to relate to, operate in, and try to maneuver in these medical landscapes of suspicion. This panel invites presentations that focus on the complexes of suspicion, which connect to healthcare institutions, healthcare providers, medicines as well as the movement, and transmission of diseases.

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