Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In Haiti, as in other resource-poor settings, national governments and international agencies carry out public health campaigns that encourage populations to seek out and utilize biomedical services, even though these services may be unaffordable, distant and ill-suited to patients’ needs and expectations. This paper explores community health agents’ reflections on their participation in a Canadian-funded campaign that promotes hospital-based births in rural northern Haiti. Based on participant observation during health campaigns and interviews with 23 community health agents, we examine two forms of humor in our informants’ discourses. The first is the health agents’ use of humor in their efforts to persuade pregnant women and their families to access biomedical services (including pre-natal visits and hospital-based births). This humor, which includes teasing and morbid juxtapositions, allows the agents to assert affinities with their target population while maintaining an authoritative status. The second form of humor emerges from ironic recognition by the health agents that their mandates require them to promote behaviors that are unrealistic or impossible for many in their communities.