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“Cacophony of Voices”

Feldman-Savelsberg, Ndonko, and Schmidt-Ehry demonstrate that the imposition of Western ideology can often backfire, even when intentions are noble. What started out as an attempt to help vaccinate an “unprotected” population in Cameroon, resulted in various rumors, suspicion, and ultimately a vast number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. One concept I found particularly interesting was Geertzian’s “cacophony of voices,” defined as “the miscommunications emerging from a clash of perspectives and interests” (Feldman-Savelsberg). Public health officials believed they were introducing a necessary technology and hoped to attain their goal of 80% vaccination by the end of 1980, but the local population was very suspicious. Why were Westerners offering free vaccines when the local clinic recently implemented fees for their services? Why were only women forced to get the vaccine with very little background information? These were only a few of the various suspicions they possessed.

The girls and women also faced various traumas after being mandatorily vaccinated. They attributed their experience as one of submission to authority, leading to extreme fears of sterility. These two quotations describe how traumatic the experience was for a couple teenage girls:

“I heard the news from students that the vaccine was to stop delivery. My heart was bubbling and I was afraid.” (Eusekia, 21 years, Kumbo)

“I was very annoyed. I could not eat for a day because I was afraid. I was thinking that maybe in future I won’t be able to deliver.” (Eurika, 22 years, Bali)

This article talks about a similar incident in Nigeria, where the local population was also convinced polio vaccinations were part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize Nigerian girls. It is interesting how this idea of “cacophony of voices” is present in many different places, one example of the many of paradoxes of aid.


Associated Press. “Rumors Cause Resistance to Vaccines in Nigeria.” MSNBC, 25

Sept. 2006. Web. <



Feldman-Savelsberg, Pamela, Flavien T. Ndonko, and Bergis Schmidt-Ehry.

“Sterilizing Vaccines or the Politics of the Womb: Retrospective Study of a

Rumor in Cameroon.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 14.2 (2000): 159-79.


One response to ““Cacophony of Voices”

  1. annieheathorn ⋅

    The video you posted is extremely interesting. It is sad to think of the ideas that people can have about a disease that causes them to run from medical aid. I know I have myself not trusted doctor recommendations- like gettting a flu shot because I’ve heard you can get the flu from it. I also avoid hospitals at all costs because of the sickness “in the air”. It is important for aid-givers to take care in how they present things. If people get the wrong idea about a drug, it can drastically impact those who choose to be treated.

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