By Stephen Frankel, Gilbert Lewis
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It is not known on what sort of information this assessment was made. Even if it is generally correct in relation to adults, it is probable that these diseases increased the risk of pneumonia in children and that fluctuations in village infant and child deaths were not observed by foreigners. Epidemics of these diseases illustrate the ease with which infections could spread during this time. O It is at present not possible to produce population statistics to support the argument that these epidemics produced a different pattern of morbidity from that which existed previously.
Genealogies emphasize violent deaths from fighting and ambush, tree falls and injuries incurred while hunting pigs. Few deaths are attributable to recognizable diseases and among these "shortwind", some kind of respiratory problem, predominates. Deaths in childbirth are forgotten, as are infant deaths. Colonial officers visited on average once every three years. They saw only the living and they recorded only what was directly observable: widespread frambesia among children with some secondary infections in adults, tropical ulcers and tinea.
The explanation of this pattern of illness and misfortune did not concentrate upon the diseases or injuries themselves, but upon the individual who had fallen ill or been injured, and his or her relationships with other people and with the supernatural. Because of this, a disease such as pneumonia could be ascribed to a number of different causes, either when suffered by different individuals or by the same individual. In general, mild illnesses or illnesses from which a person recovered fairly quickly, did not cause concern but an ongoing illness resulted in long and drawn out attempts to find its origins.
A Continuing Trial of Treatment: Medical Pluralism in Papua New Guinea by Stephen Frankel, Gilbert Lewis