1st Edition

Culture, Health and Development in South Asia Arsenic Poisoning in Bangladesh

By M. Islam Copyright 2016
    168 Pages
    by Routledge

    166 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Recently, mass arsenic poisoning of groundwater has emerged as a disastrous public health concern in Bangladesh. Apart from hundreds of deaths that have already been reported, 85 million people are estimated to be at high risk of developing deadly arsenicosis symptoms. The severity and extent of arsenicosis have obliged the government of Bangladesh to declare it the "worst national disaster" the country has ever faced, and further to be deemed a "state of emergency." To fight this pervasive public health disaster, the Bangladesh government has collaborated with the international and national NGOs to implement development projects to provide arsenic-free water to rural villagers.

    Drawing upon ethnographic research in rural Southwestern Bangladesh, this book discusses arsenic contamination and its resultant health impact from a medical anthropological and anthropology of development perspectives. It examines how the actual patients perceive, explain, manage and respond to this catastrophic public health outbreak, and goes on to analyse how such lay perceptions shape health-seeking behaviour of subjects in a medically plural context. To make the issue more holistic, this book further examines mitigation strategies and community participation in these projects.

    Challenging approaches to development and development project management, the book is of interest to policy makers, practitioners and academics working in the field of development studies, South Asian studies, medical anthropology, anthropology and sociology of development.

    1. Introduction: The paradise poisoned 2. Arsenic poisoning: Culture, health and development perspectives 3. Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh: Causes, health impacts and healthcare services 4. Ghaa: The social construction of arsenicosis 5. Arsenicosis as ghaa and health-seeking behaviour 6. Arsenic mitigation strategies: Why do they fail? 7. Conclusion: The primacy of culture in health and development


    M. Saiful Islam is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. His research interests include medical anthropology; cultural dimensions of health and illness; health, environment, and sustainable development.

    'This book carries a timely intervention into biomedical discourses about arsenicosis, billed as a long-standing national health disaster in Bangladesh. Relying on ethnographic work the author privileges patients' perspectives by documenting how the biomedical reality of arsenicosis has been vernacularized as ghaa in practice. The turn to alternative healing to manage ghaa suggests strongly both the therapeutic and cultural limits of biomedicine. The book carries insights about the need for community ownership and engagement in order to imagine sustainable and viable solutions to the problem of arsenic poisoning. I would unhesitatingly recommend this as a ‘must read’ book for medical anthropology students and scholars as well as health practitioners and policy makers.'

    Vineeta Sinha, National University of Singapore, Singapore