Illness, Choice of Healers and Illness Doubts: An Empirical Study of Role of Illness Narratives in India

Wednesday, 18 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Mohammad AKRAM, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India

This paper elaborates the importance of illness narratives in the patient-practitioner interactions and explores the role of space for expression of narratives in healthcare seeking choices of people and especially vulnerable and marginalized people.


The data for this empirical study is collected through in-depth interviews conducted among tribal population of Rajasthan and migrant construction workers of Uttar Pradesh.


The findings reveal that only 17% tribal people (Male 12%; Female 21%) went to biomedicine practitioners for treatment of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) whereas 64% (Male 71%; Female 58%) went to traditional/ local/ faith healers and 19% didn’t go to any healer at all. The tribal people largely selected the traditional healers as they listen the illness narratives of patients more attentively and patients get an immediate satisfaction. The faith healers and quacks don’t have any scientific knowledge but their act of listening narratives and engage with patients attracts the patients. Many tribal people didn’t go to any healer as narratives of STDs were difficult to share. Similarly, the migrant construction workers often visit to quacks and medicine shop owners for treatment as they listen the workers properly contrary to many medical professional.


The biomedicine practitioners often focus more on technical diagnosis and pay less attention to the illness and suffering narratives of patients whereas the traditional healers practice just the opposite. This paper explains how lack of space for expression of narratives cause ‘illness doubts’ among patients and distance them from medical practitioners. It becomes detrimental for patients as treatment by non-professionals cause ‘healthcare illusion’ and makes them chronic patients. There is need to include exchange of narratives in clinical activities of biomedicine practitioners which would humanize the care, empower the patients and won’t let the vulnerable patients to go to untrained practitioners or even quacks.