Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Linda Whiteford, Ph.D.


Medical anthropology, Health care-seeking, Ethnomedicine, Pneumonia, Andes


This dissertation research utilizes anthropological methods to determine the degree to which the signs and symptoms female caregivers identify as causes of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) in under-fives in rural Ecuador correspond with Western biomedical categories. By employing both a semi-structured medical history questionnaire and more open-ended ethnographic methods such as in-depth informant interviews and focus group research, the researcher identifies the factors which determine timely health care-seeking behaviors of female caregivers in this case study. Economic factors such as the cost of medications and lost work hours were determined to be the primary financial obstacles for timely health care-seeking. Other barriers included limited and inconsistent hours at the health centers and transportation issues. Families of lower socioeconomic status were also more likely to have children suffering particular respiratory ailments. Childhood respiratory illness

was identified as an outcome of poverty, which had the potential to reproduce itself through the negative effect of illness on household income. However, the research determined that there was an overall lack of recognition of the biomedical signs and symptoms of serious lower respiratory infections regardless of socioeconomic status. The model of ethnomedicine supports the finding that compliance with timely health care-seeking is limited without collaboration between healthcare professionals and communities to work towards beneficial and achievable goals that are joined by a common purpose. By understanding local cultural beliefs towards ARIs, healthcare professionals are in a better position to: (1) assess the accuracy or inaccuracy of ethnomedical beliefs and determine if there is a conflict in symptom recognition and care-seeking behavior with the biomedical model; (2) determine culturally-appropriate interventions or recommendations to address the health problems of the commu

nity and identify barriers; and (3) work with existing community resources in order to foster effective health communication. This research finds that public health messages regarding ARIs be informed by ethnomedical knowledge of home treatments and beliefs. Moreover, health centers need to adhere to regular hours of operation and increase staff capacity to better meet the needs of their clients.