a1 National Institute for Medical Research, Mwanza, Tanzania
a2 Department of Anthropology, Durham University, UK
a3 North Tyneside General Hospital, North Shields, UK
Stroke is an emerging problem in sub-Saharan Africa, about which little is known since most research to date has been based on retrospective, hospital-based studies. This anthropological work, designed to complement a large community-based project on stroke incidence, focuses on local understandings and treatment-seeking behaviours in urban (Dar-es-Salaam) and rural (Hai) areas of Tanzania. Semi-structured interviews (n=80) were conducted with 20 stroke patients, 20 relatives of stroke patients, ten traditional healers, and 30 other local residents. In contrast to common expectations, and literature that finds witchcraft beliefs to be most common in rural areas, stroke in urban Dar was widely believed to emanate from supernatural causes (demons and witchcraft), while in rural Hai, explanations drew mostly on ‘natural’ causes (hypertension, fatty foods, stress). These different beliefs and explanatory models fed into treatment-seeking behaviours. The first option in Hai was hospital treatment, while in Dar-es-Salaam, where belief in demons led to hospital avoidance, it was traditional healers. In both sites, multiple treatment options (serially or simultaneously) were the norm. Analysis of patient and carer narratives suggested that causation beliefs outweighed other factors, such as cost and distance, in shaping effective treatment. Three policy implications are drawn. First, as other studies have also shown, it is important to engage with, rather than dismiss, local explanations and interpretations of stroke. Stroke awareness messages need to take into account the geographical and belief systems differences. Developing an understanding of explanatory models that recognizes that local beliefs arise from dynamic processes of social interaction will be critical to designing effective interventions. Second, there is a clear role for multiple healing systems with possibility of cross-reference in the case of a chronic, disabling condition like stroke, since biomedical treatment cannot offer a ‘quick fix’ while traditional healers can help people come to terms with their condition. Third, issues of communication between health services and their patients are particularly critical.