Medical Cosmologies and Medical Inequities

Authored by: Jan Ovesen , Ing-Britt Trankell

The Handbook of Contemporary Cambodia

Print publication date:  September  2016
Online publication date:  September  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138831186
eBook ISBN: 9781315736709
Adobe ISBN: 9781317567837


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Ever since the French colonial government introduced modern medicine to Cambodia in the late nineteenth century the population has been exposed to two quite different medical cosmologies and associated treatment practices. Modern biomedicine inserted itself into an existing medical environment shaped by an indigenous health cosmology and associated pharmacological knowledge and healing practices. This conglomerate of knowledge, beliefs, and practices had been influenced by aboriginal Southeast Asian spirit cults, by Brahmanist ritual practices, by Theravada Buddhist ideas of karma and by physiological ideas from the Indian Ayurvedic system. The two medical systems have existed in parallel with each other for more than a century, each with its own set of knowledges and practices and with little regard of the other. But the medical needs of the population have made the boundary between the two systems permeable in terms of seeking healthcare. People’s choice of healthcare is mainly directed by pragmatic considerations, primarily economic but also social and experiential and it is common for people to shift between biomedical practitioners and indigenous healers, or to consult both simultaneously. General accounts of medicine in Cambodia are found in works by Crochet (2008), Guillou (2009) and Ovesen and Trankell (2010). In this chapter the main focus is on the kinds of actors and institutions that combine to characterise and define the field of healthcare and medical treatment in Cambodian society. This field exhibits a number of structural inequalities and habitual inequities that reflect the state of the society at large.

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