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October 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Jul; 45(1): 91-8.

Lay injection practices among migrant farmworkers in the age of AIDS: evolution of a biomedical folk practice.

McVea KL.

Department of Family Practice, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha 68198-3075, USA.

The practice of injecting vitamins and antibiotics by lay people is common among Hispanic migrant farmworkers in the U.S.A. This practice has recent roots in the Latin American cultures from which these farmworkers originate, but it presents a public health concern in its new context because of the high prevalence of HIV infection among this disenfrachised population. Reasons for use of lay injections include cultural beliefs about the superiority of injections over oral forms of medications, perceived irrelevance of a professional diagnostician in prescribing empirical treatment, and a multitude of barriers to access to Western medicine. Although HIV educational materials directed at migrant farmworkers do not address the issue of sharing needles for these types of injections, some farmworkers indicated they had already modified their injection techniques in response to simple directives from physicians in their home country. In contrast to other folk treatment practices that have been resistant to change mediated solely through the provision of information, lay injection is such a new development that considerable experimentation and incorporation of new knowledge are still actively shaping its use. In this process, physicians are seen as legitimate sources of information about the use of Western pharmaceuticals; they should use this role to discourage unsafe injection practices. Efforts to extinguish the practice of lay injection entirely are less likely to meet with success so long as other means of accessing Western medicine are limited.


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