Author(s): Richard M. Hodes, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Date Authored: January 1, 1997

image of Ethiopian people standing behind a counter selling coca-cola and doughnuts
Photo by UNICEF Ethiopia (cc license).

EthnoMed has been granted permission from the Western Journal of Medicine to place the following article from their journal onto our web site. This material may be protected by Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code). We are grateful to the Western Journal of Medicine for their cooperation and willingness to make this information available to the EthnoMed audience.


A large number of Ethiopians reside abroad as refugees, immigrants, or students. To provide adequate care, physicians must understand their beliefs about health and medicine. To Ethiopians, health is an equilibrium between the body and the outside. Excess sun is believed to cause mitch (“sunstroke”), leading to skin disease. Blowing winds are thought to cause pain wherever they hit. Sexually transmitted disease is attributed to urinating under a full moon. People with buda, “evil eye,” are said to be able to harm others by looking at them. Ethiopians often complain of rasehn, “my head” (often saying it burns); yazorehnyal, “spinning” (not a true vertigo); and libehn, “my heart” (usually indicating dyspepsia rather than a cardiac problem). Most Ethiopians have faith in traditional healers and procedures. In children, uvulectomy (to prevent presumed suffocation during pharyngitis in babies), the extraction of lower incisors (to prevent diarrhea), and the incision of eyelids (to prevent or cure conjunctivitis) are common. Circumcision is performed on almost all men and 90% of women. Ethiopians do bloodletting for moygnbagegn, a neurologic disease that includes fever and syncope. Chest pain is treated by cupping. Ethiopians often prefer injections to tablets. Bad news is usually given to families of patients and not the patients themselves. Zar is a form of spirit possession treated by a traditional healer negotiating with the alien spirit and giving gifts to the possessed patient. Health education must address Ethiopian concerns and customs.

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