Togo, Summer 2012
2011 to 2012
Professor Charles Piot (Cultural Anthropology, African and African American Studies and Women's Studies) formed a small research team – four undergraduate students – that spent two months in Togo in summer 2012 working on health projects. All four of these projects were pitched at the complex intersection of medicine and culture, and the students were forced to think about health historically and holistically as well as biologically.
The students’ research built on work done by Duke students who had previously accompanied Professor Piot to Togo to study indigenous medicines and youth migration, and to create a health insurance system in a rural clinic. The collective, collaborative, ongoing nature of these projects has been a signature feature, benefiting not only the students (who feel that their work is not in isolation) but also the local communities (who are able to profit from follow-through and the renewed energy of a new generation of students).
All four of the summer 2012 proects also built on work initiated by Duke students in previous years. The cumulative, collective nature of these projects makes all the difference – not only for the students themselves (who feel that their work is not in isolation) but also for the communities (who are able to profit from follow-through and the renewed energy of a new generation of students).
- Kathleen Ridgeway studied the indigenous medical system in the villages in Northern Togo, focusing on malaria and attempting to understand local conceptions of malaria etiology and to square them with biomedical accounts. The research became the basis of her honors thesis senior year (2013).
- Ben Ramsey tracked the health effects of village youth who leave for seasonal work in Nigeria, to labor under draconian labor conditions. Ben interviewed parents and teens to better understand the costs and benefits, and desires and motivations that accompany this migrant practice.
- Kelly Andrejko worked on an existing indigenous medicines project and found that 100% of the Lomé families that she interviewed use such medicines (while concurrently visiting the biomedical clinics), and she was able to identify those diseases that were more likely to send someone to a healer rather than a clinic.
- Camille Anderson explored breast cancer awareness in Lomé, where there is a high incidence of the disease among Togolese women, but testing is rare and awareness (among doctors as well as lay people). She explored the reasons – both cultural and financial – why this killer malady has not been more widely identified and targeted.
After they returned from their summer research, each of these students took an Independent Study with Professor Piot to work up the results of their research into publishable articles. They will be submitted – along with those of five other students who also conducted research in Togo – to Duke Press for review. They participated in a publications workshop with Duke University Press Editor Ken Wissoker, who has imagined this as a volume with possible appeal to students in Global Health, Medical Anthropology, and Global Humanities classes around the country.
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