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Things that take from people’s bodies: rumours about minimally invasive tissue sampling and evil spirits in ethiopia

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posted on 2023-06-10, 05:16 authored by Caroline AckleyCaroline Ackley, Ketema Degefa, Eyoel Taye, Nega Assefa
In this paper we describe how the innovative technique of minimally invasive tissue sampling (MITS) and the researchers associated with it came to represent the fears, anger, and suspicions of a community in Eastern Ethiopia. MITS was developed to lessen the uncertainty over causes of death in low- and middle-income countries (Bassat et al. 2016). It is a medical procedure where a core biopsy instrument is used to extract numerous small tissue samples from a pre-defined set of organs (brain, lung, heart, liver, bone marrow) in deceased children under 5 and stillbirths. Additionally, MITS practitioners collect blood, urine, stool, and cerebral spinal fluid, take nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs, and include measurements and several pictures of the body to identify any abnormalities. In the study site, MITS has become more than just an act of extracting samples. Instead, it is a social process that begins when the research team learns about the death of a child and ends when the child is buried. Furthermore, the act of sample taking has come to represent the underlying fears, anger, and suspicions in the com-munity about organ and blood theft, and those researchers associated with it – whether social scientists or histopathologists – have become the embodiment of an evil spirit called tuqatta, who survives on blood and organs, and conducts ritual sacrifice by offering the blood of its victims to spiritual ancestors. We suggest that the tuqatta embodies the strongly felt suspicion that the MITS intervention is not there for people’s benefit, but rather that it is taking something from them. The emergence of the tuqatta in the research site highlights the vulnerability that people feel in relation to this global health medical intervention. We conclude by arguing that local frames of understanding should not be dismissed as ‘rumours’ or simply as something to overcome in health research; rather, they require serious attention and indicate the need for open dialogue between researchers and the public.


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Nordic Journal of African Studies




Nordic Association of African Studies





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