Anthropological Contributions to the Study of Water Related Diseases

Much of the anthropological research on cholera builds on the extensive body of literature created between the 1980s and 2000 by medical anthropologists studying diarrheal disease (Bentley, 1988; Chen & Scrimshaw, 1983; Green, 1986; Kendall, Foote, & Martorell, 1983, 1984; Nitcher, 1988; Whiteford, 1999; Yoder, 1995). The world-wide scale of Child Survival intervention programs, and in particular, the mass distribution of oral rehydration salts as part of oral rehydration therapy (ORT) regimens for the treatment of diarrhea provided excellent opportunities for medical anthropological studies (reviewed in the Diarrhea entry). While the provision of rehydration salts does not break the cycle of disease transmission, it saves lives by replacing the water, sugar, and salts commonly lost through diarrhea. In addition, the ability to produce the oral rehydration salts locally made the application of anthropological knowledge a necessity. Anthropological research findings were used to facilitate the introduction and acceptance of ORT by building on the classic features of anthropological theory and methods: the respect for local beliefs, the understanding of local social organization, the need to integrate new knowledge within existing knowledge frameworks, and the recognition of the power of history and politics. Communities where oral rehydra-tion therapy has successfully been adopted are often those where the process was based on the integration of indigenous knowledge and local resources with lessons learned from biomedicine.

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