Health patterns of the Secoya of the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon
Riach, James Robert
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Population growth and economic globalization have intensified the intrusion into tropical forest environments inhabited by indigenous cultures. Although such encroachments are key factors in disease emergence, health data from affected indigenous communities are scant. Furthermore, the identification of factors contributing to disease emergence has relied on the application of an ecological model of disease that does not consider the influence of macro-social forces or of the ethnomedical beliefs of the afflicted populations. The Secoya of the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon live in a moist, tropical forest environment that has been ecologically degraded by entries of petroleum and agricultural industries, and of land-clearing colonists. It is hypothesized that emergent health conditions exist among the Secoya population. To test this hypothesis, I identify the patterns of the Secoya health problems, test for the presence of diseaseemergence in the Secoya population, and identify potential emergence factors. I apply a biocultural approach to the collection and analysis of Secoya health data. I evaluate the health problems experienced by the Secoya with regards to their status as emergent conditions. The emergence factors I consider comprise biological and ecological elements in the environment, global and national political and economic social forces, and Secoya cultural beliefs, and behavioral patterns. My results include the identification of 261 health problems experienced by the Secoya during the period between 1998-1999. The most common health problems include grippe, diarrhea, a dizzy, weak or fainting syndrome, fever, febrile grippe, gastrointestinal parasitosis, skin fungal infections, leishmaniasis, malaria, and chicken pox. Definite emergent conditions include an unexplained fatal syndrome, dengue, hepatitis, tuberculosis, chicken pox, and chainsawrelated injuries. The agents associated with the emergent conditions have entered or reentered the Secoya population as a result of recent intrusions into the environment. The intrusions have been driven by demographic, economic, and geopolitical macro-social forces. They have also been influenced by the Ecuadorian government’s view of the Amazon as a source of potential wealth and of indigenous cultures as in need of conversion to the national culture.