Localizing Global Medicine: Challenges and Opportunities in Cervical Screening in an Indigenous Community in Ecuador

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Abstract

This participatory research study examines the tensions and opportunities in accessing allopathic medicine, or biomedicine, in the context of a cervical cancer screening program in a rural indigenous community of Northern Ecuador. Focusing on the influence of social networks, the article extends research on “re-appropriation” of biomedicine. It does so by recognizing two competing tensions expressed through social interactions: suspicion of allopathic medicine and the desire to maximize one’s health. Semistructured individual interviews and focus groups were conducted with 28 women who had previously participated in a government-sponsored cervical screening program. From inductive thematic analysis, the article traces these women’s active agency in navigating coherent paths of health. Despite drawing on social networks to overcome formidable challenges, the participants faced enduring system obstacles—the organizational effects of the networks of allopathic medicine. Such obstacles need to be understood to reconcile competing knowledge systems and improve health care access in underresourced communities.

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