Kuru in Syria

Kuru is a neuro-degenerative disorder that is caused by misfolded proteins called prions. These prions build up in the body and cause other healthy proteins to misfold and become prion, this eventually leads to loss of motor function, nervous system problems and eventually death. The origin of kuru stems in many cultures (including Syria) from cannibalism. Ingesting human tissue increases the amount of prions in the human body at an exponential rate causing the onset of the disease. Kuru resurfaced in the Muslim community recently among Syrian rebels who were rumored to be eating the hearts of victims, 2 of these rebels were then hospitalized and transferred to Germany to be treated for the disease signifying the emergence of the disease in Syria. In many cultures other than Syria it is common practice to eat the brain tissue of dead relatives as a sign of respect, causing the disease among women and children, men did not partake in this ritual so they were generally unaffected. Currently there is no government action being placed to stop the practices that caused the initial emergence of this disease, however many state that the practices of eating the enemy’s hearts have stopped after the first two men were hospitalized (Cannabalism and Kuru in Syria, 2014). In an article by Shirley Lindenbaum, she attempts to clarify the history, origin and medical relevance of the disease Kuru. She does this by incorporating current medical research with anthropological studies to examine political, social and domestic issues involved with the disease. She also describes the specfic tribes and cultures that are plagued by the disease and what she feels to be the best methods to preventing the onset of kuru and how to properly educate the people being affected to reduce the prevalence of the disease.

 

References:

“Cannibalism and Kuru in Syria?” Examiner.com. Accessed August 8, 2014.

Lindenbaum, Shirley. “Abstract.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. November 27, 2008. Accessed August 8, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2735506/.

 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Ben Caldwell says:

    After reading the attached article about Kuru in Syria, I believe the author of the article used both the biological and ethnomedical approaches to medical anthropology in looking at the disease. It is a biological approach in that it is noted how sufferers of Kuru have higher levels of prions in their systems. However, in looking at how the culture and its practices affect the rate of Kuru, the article is also ethnomedical. The latter of these approaches is particularly important in understanding why Kuru is such a problem in Syria. The author notes how the practices of cannibalism have a direct effect on the disease outbreak, if she were to simply note that it was due to the prion levels, the true cause of the outbreak would never be acknowledged. As the author of this post points out, since some cannibalistic practices may be part of their culture, this can be used as a starting point for educating them on the dangers of the practices. In this way, the biological approach, in conjunction with the ethnomedical approach were used to discover the cause of recent outbreaks of Kuru in Syria. Though destroying the practices of a culture may not seem like a good thing, if it means stopping the disease outbreak, it is certainly worth the loss of that small part of their history.

  2. Matt Meranda says:

    The coordinated international response to the increased Kuru incidence in Syria (as evidenced by the involvement of Turkey, Germany, Syria, and the fostering country of the website Examiner.com) is analogous to health officials’ coordination and utilization of a variety of academic fields to diagnose the disease as such and to understand its origins. Kuru is a form of Spongiform Encephalopathy originally observed in the cannibalistic tribe of the Fore people. Its mysterious origins were finally illuminated when anthropologists discovered the ritual behavior and diet of the tribe’s members, particularly of those infected (the women and children). Biomedical science (the biomedical focus of medical anthropology) was indispensable in determining a plausible mechanism of action for the devastating and often fatal disease. But these achievements arguably would not have been possible without the ethnomedical or cultural approaches to the same science, for these facets of medical anthropology provided crucial insight as to how the disease was transmitted from person to person—a key part of the Kuru puzzle. In examining the pseudo-culture of the Syrian rebels, those stricken with the disease were able to be diagnosed due to their observed practice of consuming human flesh. Without this insight, and the wisdom of past work with the disease and its anthropological components, Kuru may very well have spread much quicker through this population of rebels, and possibly to surrounding populations as well.

  3. Matt Meranda says:

    The coordinated international response to the increased Kuru incidence in Syria (as evidenced by the involvement of Turkey, Germany, Syria, and the fostering country of the website Examiner.com) is analogous to health officials’ coordination and utilization of a variety of academic fields to diagnose the disease as such and to understand its origins. Kuru is a form of Spongiform Encephalopathy originally observed in the cannibalistic tribe of the Fore people. Its mysterious origins were finally illuminated when anthropologists discovered the ritual behavior and diet of the tribe’s members, particularly of those infected (the women and children). Biomedical science (the biomedical focus of medical anthropology) was indispensable in determining a plausible mechanism of action for the devastating and often fatal disease. But these achievements arguably would not have been possible without the ethnomedical or cultural approaches to the same science, for these facets of medical anthropology provided crucial insight as to how the disease was transmitted from person to person—a key part of the Kuru puzzle. In examining the pseudo-culture of the Syrian rebels, those stricken with the disease were able to be diagnosed due to their observed practice of consuming human flesh. Without this insight, and the wisdom of past work with the disease and its anthropological components, Kuru may very well have spread much quicker through this population of rebels, and possibly to surrounding populations as well.

  4. Matt Meranda says:

    The coordinated international response to the increased Kuru incidence in Syria (as evidenced by the involvement of Turkey, Germany, Syria, and the fostering country of the website Examiner.com) is analogous to health officials’ coordination and utilization of a variety of academic fields to diagnose the disease as such and to understand its origins. Kuru is a form of Spongiform Encephalopathy originally observed in the cannibalistic tribe of the Fore people. Its mysterious origins were finally illuminated when anthropologists discovered the ritual behavior and diet of the tribe’s members, particularly of those infected (the women and children). Biomedical science (the biomedical focus of medical anthropology) was indispensable in determining a plausible mechanism of action for the devastating and often fatal disease. But these achievements arguably would not have been possible without the ethnomedical or cultural approaches to the same science, for these facets of medical anthropology provided crucial insight as to how the disease was transmitted from person to person—a key part of the Kuru puzzle. In examining the pseudo-culture of the Syrian rebels, those stricken with the disease were able to be diagnosed due to their observed practice of consuming human flesh. Without this insight, and the wisdom of past work with the disease and its anthropological components, Kuru may very well have spread much quicker through this population of rebels, and possibly to surrounding populations as well.

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