Explaining a Complex Disease Process: Talking to Patients about Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) in Brazil


Patient explanatory models of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, tend to be syntheses of folk models of illness and health, biomedical models to which patients are exposed at different stages in the treatment process, and individual patient experiences of illness. The sensitive presentation of biomedical information about Hansen’s disease to patients has the potential to increase adherence to treatment programs and increase patient confidence in the biomedical system. Conversely, withholding or poor presentation of biomedical information can create misunderstanding and confusion for patients. In this article, I explore the ways in which people who are affected by Hansen’s disease in Rio de Janeiro learn about different aspects of their illness and its treatment from health care professionals.