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Poverty, Violence and Inventivity: Life in a hospital ward in Bangladesh

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Shahaduz Zaman


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An ethnographic exploration was done in an orthopaedic ward of a government teaching hospital in Bangladesh to understand the nature of hospital culture in the context of Bangladeshi society at large. Life and work in the ward result in a culture that is simultaneously created by its inhabitants and the conditions in which they are situated. The study shows that biomedicine is a product of particular social conditions and that the hospital reflects features of its society.Behind the injuries and broken limbs in the ward are stories of violence, crime, and intolerance occurring in a society where masses of people fight over limited resources. In the ward people interact in an extremely hierarchical manner. The patients, who are mainly from poor economic backgrounds, remain at the bottom of the hierarchy. Doctors and other staff members are often professionally frustrated. Strikes related to hospital staff's various professional demands hamper the regular flow of work in the ward. Family members are engaged in nursing and provide various kinds of support to their hospitalized relatives. Patients give small bribes to ward boys and cleaners to obtain their day-to-day necessities. Patients joke with each other and mock senior doctors. Thus, they neutralize their powerlessness and drive away the monotony of their stay. Doctors develop ‘indigenous’ solutions to orthopaedic problems. Instead of using high-tech devices, they employ instruments made of bamboo, bricks, and razor blades. This study shows how medical practice takes shape in an understaffed, under-resourced and poorly financed hospital operating in a low-income country.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zaman S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Year: 2004

Volume: 59

Issue: 10

Pages: 2025-2036

ISSN (print): 0277-9536

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5347

Publisher: Pergamon


DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.03.007


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