BU Prof Publishes Research on Conflict’s Impact on Health Services

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BRANDON, MB – Dr. Emma Varley, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, has published “Abandonments, Solidarity and Logics of Care: Hospitals as Sites of Sectarian Conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan” in Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry: An International Journal of Cross-Cultural Health Research. The article, which focuses on healthcare delivery sites as conduits for the expression and enactment of Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, represents nearly three years of ethnographic fieldwork and research. Dr. Varley documented healthcare providers’ professional and personal experiences during times of Shia-Sunni tension and conflict.

“Health services and personnel are not impervious to the forces that produce states of crisis,” says Dr. Varley.

“For ten years, my research has explored how health systems around the world are affected by natural disasters, political upheaval or warfare, and identifies the heroic ways that healthcare providers treat and save those most at risk during periods of insecurity or strife. In ways that challenge current research on the interrelationship between conflict and medicine, my recent work also identifies how, in certain circumstances, hospitals can serve as sites of exclusion and violence, while medical personnel can become active co-participants in the propagation of diverse forms of harm against patients.”

The article looks at hospital spaces, clinical services and treatment encounters at the District Headquarter Hospital, the primary referral hospital for the 1.5 million residents of Gilgit-Baltistan, a geographically remote and mountainous region in northern Pakistan. Dr. Varley examines the impact of sectarian conflicts, and those between Shias and Sunnis in particular, on the social, administrative and clinical practices of healthcare services, and the complex ways clinics serve as centres of contact, abandonment and violence.

“Although Canadian hospitals, health-care workers and patients do not have to deal with the acute tensions, conflicts, and problems disseminated by Shia-Sunni sectarianism in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of northern Pakistan which constitutes Dr. Varley’s important work,” said Dr. Demetres Tryphonopoulos, BU Dean of Arts, “the emerging lessons she outlines have more than mere contiguous application to the Canadian reality. Published in leading journals, Dr. Varley’s medical anthropological research is relevant, timely, and cutting-edge.”

Dr. Varley’s article will be also featured in an upcoming special issue of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, organized by researchers at Brown University and Harvard University, which explores “clinics in crisis.” This research follows Dr. Varley’s prior investigations of Pakistani women’s childbirth experiences and use of reproductive and maternal health services during sectarian hostilities and natural disasters.

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