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Diabetes, Medicine and Modernity in Cameroon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2011


This article examines popular understandings of diabetes, and conflicts and ambiguities in the management of diabetes care, in two areas of Cameroon. Conducted over a two-year period, comparative ethnography in Yaoundé and Bafut started in four diabetes clinics (two in each place). From there it extended outwards, first to the homes of patients with diabetes, and then on to a number of indigenous healers consulted by patients or their families. We explore here the tension between clinic-based demands for patients' ‘compliance’ with treatment guidelines, including repeated strictures against resorting to ‘traditional’ medicine, and patients' own willingness to alternate between biomedicine and indigenous practitioners, a process in which they subject the claims of both to a kind of pragmatic evaluation. The continuing importance of indigenous healing practices, and explanations for diabetes in terms of ancestral intervention or witchcraft, are considered in the light of recent anthropological debate about the ‘modernity of witchcraft’ in Africa.

Cet article examine les interprétations populaires du diabète, ainsi que les conflits et les ambiguïtés dans la gestion du traitement du diabète dans deux régions du Cameroun. L'ethnographie comparative menée sur une période de deux ans à Yaoundé et Bafut a commencé dans quatre cliniques du diabète (deux dans chaque ville). L’étude s'est ensuite élargie au domicile des patients diabétiques, puis à un certain nombre de guérisseurs indigènes consultés par les patients ou leur famille. L'article explore les tensions entre d'une part les exigences des cliniques en matière d'observance de traitement par les patients (y compris des critiques sévères répétées contre le recours à la médecine « traditionnelle ») et, d'autre part, la volonté des patients d'alterner entre praticiens de la biomédecine et praticiens indigènes, un processus dans lequel ils soumettent les prétentions des uns et des autres à une sorte d’évaluation pragmatique. L'importance persistante des pratiques de guérison indigènes, et les explications du diabète en termes d'intervention ancestrale ou de sorcellerie, sont étudiées à la lumière du débat anthropologique récent sur la « modernité de la sorcellerie » en Afrique.

Research Article
Africa , Volume 78 , Issue 4 , November 2008 , pp. 475 - 495
Copyright © International African Institute 2008

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