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The Quest for Therapy among Refugees in Uganda. Case Studies from Bidibidi Settlement and Kampala

Gilberto Borri, Alessandro Gusman, Cecilia Pennacini


Beyond the borders, inside refugees’ settlements as well as in urban contexts, international and national policies shape refugees’ bodies. Healthcare programs, medical prevention and screening activities are strictly connected to the “unfulfilling promise” of self-reliance (Hunter 2009). Refugees are constantly seen as in a state of adolescence, in need of constant monitoring. Their lives may not be at risk, but their basic rights remain unfulfilled after years of exile (UNHCR 2005). Both in the settlement and in the urban context, despite the lack of resources, numerous international and national bodies take on the task of managing and providing healthcare. Yet, refugees should not be regarded as passive subjects in these processes: they put in place an intricate web of practices of acceptance, request and refuse. In order to show the strategies and tactics refugees utilize to face health problems and other kinds of uncertainties, the article analyses two different settings: on the one side, it focuses on three medical campaigns carried on by RMF (Real Medicine Foundation) in Bidibidi refugee settlement on children malnutrition screening, children vaccination and HIV screening; on the other side, it examines the role of spiritual healing, provided both by Pentecostal churches and by other specialists in Kampala, as part of the therapeutic trajectories and of the quest for healing of refugees in Uganda.

Keywords: refugees, access to healthcare, medical pluralism, Bidibidi settlement, Kampala

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