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Cahiers d'études et de recherches francophones / Santé

Traditional enema with new-borns and infants in Bobo Dioulasso: health practice or socialisation Volume 12, numéro 4, Octobre - Décembre 2002

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Kanki demonstrated a high prevalence and frequence of enema practised with new-borns in the South-West of Burkina Faso. Little is known about the risks on children's health possibly associated with this practice and about its impact on other treatments in paediatrics. In this study, the authors describe daily administered enema (DAE) and analyse local conceptual frameworks underlying this practice through in-depth-interviews and focus group discussions with 30 mothers, 5 traditional healers and 5 health agents. Various medications are used to compose the liquid introduced by the mothers in the child's anus. Many of these substances are prone to irritate intestinal mucus, others are simply toxic. Practically, enema aims at curing or preventing a variety of diseases caused by an accumulation of impurities (nògò) in the intestines due to the consumption of inappropriate food. With new-borns, diseases are transmitted by mothers through breastfeeding after eating food which is too sweet or too fat. In addition to provoking diseases, the nògò also "block" the child's physical and psychic development during his/her first year of life. Therefore, as soon as the child has excreted for the first time, most mothers give enema daily both to protect their children from diseases and to speed their development. In fact, beside prophylaxy and therapy lies a "didactic" function of enema as a medication used to help the child to stand up, to get teeth..., to gain independence from his/her mother. DAE therefore plays an important role in the process of acquiring bio-social aptitudes, i.e., important educational virtues to achieve a successful first step in the socialisation process. Exploring more deeply local perceptions explaining the origin of the nògò, the authors found an interesting relationship with religious taboos. Beside prohibited food, the nògò are also due to transgression of various taboos surrounding birth and breastfeeding and even suggest a religious, rather than hygienic, explanation for the food prohibited. DAE ultimately consists in re-adjusting the child and his mother according to moral and cultural rules, avoiding the negative consequences of transgression. Consistently, DAE also facilitates the process of acquiring bio-social aptitudes for the child and therefore help shim to enter his/her family as a fully accepted member. Moreover, religious prohibitions surrounding birth end as soon as the child is able to eat solid food and free him/herself. Therefore, DAE also helps the parents to get back to their normal life conditions. In conclusion, in addition to prophylactic and therapeutic explanations, the DAE participates in a general process of socialisation of new-borns. To a certain extent, the child's health depends on the respect of the social and religious system and rules. The study reveals the important conceptual gap that may exist between two different logical frameworks ­ biomedical and popular ­ prone to explain health risk for new-borns. The authors then reflect on the possible impact of health education programmes seeking to intervene at the hygienic level and ultimately facing an important set of cultural values aiming at keeping the social and cultural organisation coherent.