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Medical Humanitarianism

Medical Humanitarianism provides comparative ethnographies of the moral, practical, and policy implications of modern medical humanitarian practice. It offers twelve vivid case studies that challenge readers to reach a more critical and compassionate understanding of humanitarian assistance.

Medical Humanitarianism
Ethnographies of Practice

Edited by Sharon Abramowitz and Catherine Panter-Brick. Foreword by Peter Piot

2015 | 288 pages | Cloth $69.95
Anthropology / Medicine
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Table of Contents

—Peter Piot
Bringing Life into Relief: Comparative Ethnographies of Humanitarian Practice
—Sharon Abramowitz and Catherine Panter-Brick

Chapter 1. Dignity Under Extreme Duress: The Moral and Emotional Landscape of Local Humanitarian Workers in the Afghan-Pakistan Border Areas
—Patricia Omidian and Catherine Panter-Brick
Chapter 2. Compassion and Care at the Limits of Privilege: Haitian Doctors amid the Influx of Foreign Humanitarian Volunteers
—Laura Wagner
Chapter 3. Trust and Caregiving During a UNICEF-Funded Relief Operation in the Somali Region of Ethiopia
—Lauren Carruth

Chapter 4. Evidence and Narratives: Recounting Ongoing Violence in Darfur, Sudan
—Alex de Waal
Chapter 5. Life Beyond the Bubbles: Cognitive Dissonance and Humanitarian Impunity in Northern Uganda
—Tim Allen
Chapter 6. Staging a "Medical Coup"? Médecins Sans Frontières and the 2005 Food Crisis in Niger
—Jean-Hervé Jézéquel

Chapter 7. What Happens When MSF Leaves? Humanitarian Departure and Medical Sovereignty in Postconflict Liberia
—Sharon Abramowitz
Chapter 8. Humanitarianism and "Mobile Sovereignty" in Strong State Settings: Reflections on Medical Humanitarianism in Aceh, Indonesia
—Byron J. Good, Jesse Hession Grayman, and Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good
Chapter 9. The British Military Medical Services and Contested Humanitarianism
—Stuart Gordon

Chapter 10. Anthropology and Medical Humanitarianism in the Age of Global Health Education
—Peter Locke
Chapter 11. The Creation of Emergency and Afterlife of Intervention: Reflections on Guinea Worm Eradication in Ghana
—Amy Moran-Thomas
Chapter 12. Medical NGOs in Strong States: Working the Margins of the Israeli Medical Bureaucracy
—Ilil Benjamin

Conclusion. A Measured Good
—Peter Redfield

List of Contributors

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Peter Piot

Having spent four decades of my professional life addressing health care issues and pursuing social change, I welcome this timely and thoughtful volume that engages scholars and practitioners working at the intersection of medical science, anthropology, and emergency humanitarianism. The field of humanitarian health, as it takes a higher priority on the global agenda, needs such sensitive and expert study of the intersection of humanitarian medicine and global health interventions.

As a practitioner and scientist in Belgium, in what was then Zaire, and subsequently through the United Nations on a global scale, I have learned the hard way about the extreme complexity involved in tackling the challenges of infectious diseases and epidemics, as well as the holistic nature of human health and well-being. This personal and professional journey has also compelled me to become a practitioner of the art of politics at all levels: from the micropolitics of the village or the laboratory to the international politics of energizing the United Nations system to respond to an entirely novel threat, such as the AIDS pandemic or the West African Ebola crisis.

The politics of human health has obliged me to study and practice the methods of social anthropology, becoming a reflective observer as well as a participant. Questioning the cultural and scientific premises of our approaches to humanitarian assistance and being prepared to see the problem from others' points of view are necessary to tackle the biggest international public health and humanitarian challenges of our time. Medical humanitarianism is an especially vital area of comparative and analytical research. As this field of scholarship grows, we are seeing important quantitative and qualitative research, alongside the development of codes of practice. Going forward, the skills of the epidemiologist, ethnographer, and ethicist are equally necessary.

The chapters in this volume address many of the challenges I have encountered and struggled with during my career, and I am delighted that these issues are obtaining the scholarly attention that they warrant. They deal with people of diverse backgrounds, local and international institutions, social and political struggles, and encounters with political power, bureaucracy, and prejudice. They showcase the concerns of today's anthropologists and other social scientists, analyzing the encounter between different societies and institutions with their challenges of mutual comprehension and the effective application of science. Each chapter offers a compelling human story and addresses tough questions about medical humanitarianism without getting mired in critique or jargon.

Some of the toughest issues facing physicians and humanitarian practitioners are addressed in this volume. For example, the decision by humanitarian organizations to withdraw from a project has rarely been scrutinized. It is an area that has largely been shielded from attention by closed-door institutional decision making. The dilemmas and dangers faced by the local staff of humanitarian agencies—most starkly seen recently in the killings of local polio health workers in Pakistan—are another area that is given much-needed attention in this volume. Other chapters grapple with relations between foreign experts and their local counterparts, the application of technology and expertise to complicated local problems, and ensuring that humanitarian principles do not become dogmas. Contributions bring new methods to bear on familiar problems and familiar methods on new issues, such as applying the methods of infectious disease epidemiology to delve into shifting patterns of lethal violence in complex internal conflicts.

In brief, medical humanitarianism has emerged as a significant global agenda, and this book, with its particular attention to detailed ethnography, represents a truly important contribution to the field. I am especially fascinated by the trope of "comparative humanitarian ethnographies" advanced by the editors, Sharon Abramowitz and Catherine Panter-Brick. In light of the recent Ebola crisis, which unfolded as this book went to press, this book becomes even more prescient of the lessons that can be learned by examining well-grounded ethnographies in comparative perspective for a more critical and compassionate understanding of humanitarian assistance.

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