Accepted Paper:

Living-with microbes in the era of antimicrobial resistance  


Salla Sariola (University of Helsinki)
Elina Oinas (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores collaborations to tackle the global increase of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and focuses on human-microbial encounters in a vaccine trial set in Benin, West-Africa.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores encounters generated by the global increase of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). As antibiotics are becoming redundant due to drug resistance, modern medicine is at risk of being turned back by a century. The focus of this paper is a collaborative vaccine trial in Benin, West Africa, that aims to prevent bacteria-borne diarrhoea and development of drug resistant strains.

In the post-antibiotic era, we argue, it is vital to gain a granular view of the various practices of relation-making between humans and microbes, and how they are changed by the threat AMR. The paper analyses encounters between Northern European tourists, who double-act as participants in the vaccine trial, with local populations in Benin. As part of the vaccine trial, tourist-cum-research volunteers spend two weeks in the region chosen for its moderate levels of antimicrobial resistance as well as historical, cultural significance. While visiting Benin, these study participants become exposed to various new bacteria and in this encounter, social and microbial cultures meet and mingle.

Based on ethnographic research from 2017-2018, this paper seeks to understand how all those involved in the trial understand microbes and anti-microbial resistance. We discuss the shifting ways tourists embody and discuss their bodily contours and assumed embodied integrity and fragility in relation to the local environment, for example via the experience of diarrhoea. Their experiences reveal the different modes of discussing, embodying, embracing, and resisting encounters with the local, both human and microbial.

Panel C25
Global health collaborations and alignments