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What Role Do Traditional Beliefs Play in Treatment Seeking and Delay for Buruli Ulcer Disease? Insights from a Mixed Methods Study in Cameroon

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

BACKGROUND: Victims of Buruli ulcer disease (BUD) frequently report to specialized units at a late stage of the disease. This delay has been associated with local beliefs and a preference for traditional healing linked to a reportedly mystical origin of the disease. We assessed the role beliefs play in determining BUD sufferers' choice between traditional and biomedical treatments. METHODS: Anthropological fieldwork was conducted in community and clinical settings in the region of Ayos and Akonolinga in Central Cameroon. The research design consisted of a mixed methods study, triangulating a qualitative strand based on ethnographic research and quantitative data obtained through a survey presented to all patients at the Ayos and Akonolinga hospitals (Nā€Š=ā€Š79) at the time of study and in four endemic communities (Nā€Š=ā€Š73) belonging to the hospitals' catchment area. RESULTS: The analysis of BUD sufferers' health-seeking behaviour showed extremely complex therapeutic itineraries, including various attempts and failures both in the biomedical and traditional fields. Contrary to expectations, nearly half of all hospital patients attributed their illness to mystical causes, while traditional healers admitted patients they perceived to be infected by natural causes. Moreover, both patients in hospitals and in communities often combined elements of both types of treatments. Ultimately, perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the treatment, the option for local treatment as a cost prevention strategy and the characteristics of the doctor-patient relationship were more determinant for treatment choice than beliefs. DISCUSSION: The ascription of delay and treatment choice to beliefs constitutes an over-simplification of BUD health-seeking behaviour and places the responsibility directly on the shoulders of BUD sufferers while potentially neglecting other structural elements. While more efficacious treatment in the biomedical sector is likely to reduce perceived mystical involvement in the disease, additional decentralization could constitute a key element to reduce delay and increase adherence to biomedical treatment.
Journal: PLoS ONE
Issue: 5
Volume: 7
Pages: 1 - 8
Publication year:2012