Ownership of illness and the politics of healing: treating nodding syndrome in northern Uganda
Mirjam de Bruijn
Paper short abstract:
Nodding syndrome is an unknown affliction that has affected thousands of children in northern Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania. The limited knowledge on its etiology, mode of transmission, pathogenesis and clinical course leaves room for collective constructions of illness, misfortune and healing.
Paper long abstract:
Nodding syndrome (NS) is an unknown affliction that has affected thousands of children in post-conflict northern Uganda, South Sudan and in Tanzania. The limited knowledge on its etiology, mode of transmission, pathogenesis and clinical course leaves room for collective constructions of illness and misfortune by multiple actors. This paper focuses on the conceptualization of NS and notions of healing, based on 15 months of qualitative fieldwork in northern Uganda. Besides its biomedical importance, NS offers a model for social disharmony in which it is linked to conflict, poverty and frustrations over neglect. The unknown cause and cure elicit different explanatory models suggesting a variety of etiological factors, ranging from onchocerciasis volvulus and mycotoxins to the role of revengeful spirits connected to histories of violence. These models are linked to different notions of healing; e.g. herbal and biomedical treatment is circulating, ceremonies have been held to chase out 'cen' and Islamic healers use Quran recitations to treat the affected children. Since effective treatment is lacking, the 'quest for a cure' continues, engaging different actors in a struggle for ownership of illness and treatment. Social, spiritual and political aspects are assimilated into narratives on its etiology and NS is used as a medium of communication to discuss other pressing issues in the affected area. This paper creates insight into the complex politics of illness and healing and illustrates the merging of scientific, social, political and spiritual domains in the context of a pluralistic medical system concerning the 'mysterious' nodding syndrome in northern Uganda.
Anthropology of cure and recovery: collaboration and chronicity