Tag: medical anthropology

Funeral for an Embryo

On a freezing February morning, I pulled my rental car into the small parking lot behind a sprawling Minnesota church. I had flown halfway across the country to take part in a Catholic burial of lab-grown frozen embryos. The event was organized by a midwestern Christian organization, the Holy Trinity Guardians, a group that had been burying embryos in this cemetery for several years. Some of the embryos were sent from local fertility clinics; others were shipped from labs around the United States. As I walked through the snow-covered burial grounds looking for signs of other attendees, I spotted an elderly man standing solemnly by a large stone monument. He waved and introduced himself as Fred. He was also looking for directions to the embryo remains burial. Fred had taken a detour to this spot, which marked the buried remains of miscarried fetuses and stillborn infants. Together, we made our way along the icy wooded path toward the larger cemetery where people had begun to gather. As we walked, Fred recounted how, decades earlier, his wife had suffered a late-term miscarriage. This very church had buried the remains. Fred never forgot that baby, he told me, and he had come today to honor what he saw as other unborn lives who would never have the chance to grow up. (read more...)

How to Imagine the Unknown: Choosing an Arm Prosthesis

When amputation happens, it is an un-ignorable event. After the surgery, the person learns how to be an amputee, they learn to conceptualize their altered body. This work belongs to the inner world of the amputee, their bodily experience, and to the attitudes and environment around them. Many amputees will adopt a prosthesis. However, the journey of choosing, training on, and incorporating a prosthesis into one’s practice and identity requires the amputee to imagine future bodily experiences and knowledge. Much of this imagining happens in unfamiliar and mediated settings: in doctors’ offices that are also hi-tech device shops, or in meetings with other prosthesis users. (read more...)

Staring Contest

It’s 3 in the morning. I’m sitting at the end of the hallway of the boomerang-shaped intensive care unit (ICU) where I work, looking into the darkness beyond the unit’s only window. When I’m on the unit, the world outside the hospital transforms into something entirely remote—intangible, imperceptible, inconsequential. I force myself to imagine the scent of the fresh air I will inhale when I leave. It’s hard to remember that the world is pulsing with life outside these walls. The hospital’s resistance to darkness and quiet permeates the boundaries of reality itself. The fluorescent lights transform me into something other than a person, washing out the details that make me Sophie. In here, I can lose myself. In here, I am lost. (read more...)

The Wild Pantry

Finally, it’s time. As a team we have arrived in Cambodia—a geographer and an anthropologist embarking on a journey that we have joyfully planned for the last few months. The project we are working on is Plant Planet Plate, which brings together the work of the Green Shoots Foundation, which is led by me (a geographer), in rural development and agriculture with the research and skills in plant humanities of Dr. Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam, a medical anthropologist. Our fieldwork consists of conducting 50 interviews with people living in Oddar Meanchey Province, located in the North West of Cambodia, on wild foods and medicinal plants that they forage. We also intend to take voucher specimens of plants we come across to be submitted to the herbarium at Royal University of Phnom Penh. Once the data is collected, we will analyse and conduct further desk-based research to write essays on the different plants we think stand out in cultural significance and overall preference. A crucial component of the work is having these essays available online in English, Khmer, and French, so they are more accessible to both Khmer nationals and those abroad. This is essential for science communication and knowledge sharing, especially as it relates to biodiversity preservation initiatives, along with a greater understanding of food ingredients, where they come from, perhaps even how they got there and ensure sustainable diets for all. (read more...)

Between Pain and Relief: Morphine’s Ambiguities in India

The root of the word morphine is Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Neil Gaiman’s contemporary reimagining of the character in his magnum opus Sandman likewise thrusts upon us a gothic titular figure, constantly morose, deeply troubled, and yet a benevolent god of dreams that embodies everything human. Perhaps it should be no surprise then that in the modern world this character’s namesake, morphine, the gold standard of medically prescribed painkillers (Ruiz-Garcia and Lopez-Briz 2008), offers a similarly troubling medical story, evoking in equal measure the contingent histories of pleasure and war, relief and addiction, commerce and regulation. In few places is this more apparent than in India. Legal opium is grown throughout certain regions of the country for the sole purpose of pharmaceutical production, yet irrespective of this robust industrial production, very little morphine is used within the country’s own hospitals (Rajagopal and Joranson 2007). This is a story that involves both the everyday impacts of restrictive regulation, and a local palliative care movement intent on widening access to the drug. (read more...)

The Illness Experience of a Forty-year-old Hispanic Woman

Different cultural upbringings can determine a person’s illness experience. The relationship between the experience of a patient, and in turn, a course of treatment is inherently valuable to document. To understand an instance of this dynamic, I interviewed Maria, a Los Angeles resident, and a forty-year-old Hispanic, low-income, single mother with six children who is a devout Christian belonging to the church Iglesia Universal. (read more...)

Embracing Black Positionalities, (Re)Centring Slowness: A Challenge to Anthropology’s Anti-Racism Efforts

Anti-racism efforts remain highly problematic. As anthropologists, we are usually aware of the violent, colonial, and genocidal histories of research on ‘race’ and realities of racism which have been conducted in the names of scientific and social advancement. But now, we find ourselves in the “post-George Floyd era”— a phrase used to describe the current temporal phase of discourses on anti-Black racism, as was articulated at the UK’s first (known) Black anthropologist’s conference, called The Gathering . In the UK, the post-George Floyd era refers to a tragic, but expected, decline; where constructive discussions about, empathy towards, and valued recognition of Black lives have reached their peak in popular discourse and are returning to their tokenistic nature in academia. At the height of the global Black Lives Matter movement, and even in the immediate aftermath (late spring of 2020 to the end of 2020), there seemed to be small glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, the murder of a Black man at the hands of actors of the ‘State’ would act as a catalyst for the meaningful, long-lasting upheaval of many anti-Black systems. Yet, two years later, in 2022, I find myself in the position of a Black doctoral student studying Anthropology in a state of disbelief and underwhelm. (read more...)

PrEP on Trial: the Future of HIV in Indonesian Policy Worlds

In 2012, the first pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs, billed as a pill a day to prevent HIV, were authorized for use in the United States. Heralded as a transformative prevention technology for gay men and trans women in particular, one that encouraged new forms of self-management and risk mitigation practices alongside condoms, testing, and treatment, PrEP has since been incorporated into the global HIV prevention toolkit. In reports, policy documents, and community organizations, PrEP is uniformly described as necessary to accelerate the HIV control response and meet the global target of the “end of AIDS” by 2030. In line with this dominant policy narrative, governments reliant on international donor funding for HIV programs are now encouraged to incorporate PrEP into HIV programs for MSM, transgender women and other “key populations” assessed as meeting a specific risk profile. This is the case for Indonesia, which formally approved PrEP for a trial in 2021 (United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 2021). Although initially announced in 2019 with a considerable degree of community support, Indonesia’s PrEP trial was postponed both due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent bureaucratic delays. Nevertheless, with significant pressure from international donors and support from the Global Fund, USAID, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a PrEP trial commenced in April 2022 across seven provinces in Indonesia. Key populations who agreed to undertake an array of tests and routine clinical monitoring, would obtain access to a 30-day supply of a single pill combining tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and emtricitabine (FTC) – generic Truvada – from one of 34 primary health clinics at no cost. As it circulates in policy, clinical, and community spaces, PrEP is transforming the temporal horizon for HIV in Indonesia and other postcolonial settings where access to healthcare remains thwarted by entrenched global inequalities. (read more...)