“It Is Difficult For Us To Treat Their Pain”. Health Professionals’ Perceptions of Somali Pastoralists in the Context of Pain Management: A Conceptual Model

Article Summary by Elenore Baum

Pain relief in Sub-Saharan Africa is a major public health concern, particularly for marginalized populations such as pastoralists. Their seasonal mobility and remote lifestyle with limited access to health services contribute to their vulnerability towards poorer health outcomes, including pain. To improve pastoralists’ access to pain treatment in biomedical health facilities it is crucial to gain a better understanding on how health professionals perceive Somali pastoralists in the context of pain management. We conducted a qualitative interview study with 17 health professionals in different biomedical facilities in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia and gave voice to pastoralists by conducting preceding focus group discussions. Health professionals, mainly nurses, described distinctive challenges in pain management for Somali pastoralists. Communication barriers, insufficient training, resource shortages, and a lack of familiarity with pastoralists’ way of life were reported hurdles. Several health professionals exhibited demeaning behaviors and paternalistic attitudes towards their pastoralist patients. This could limit acceptability of biomedical health services for pastoralists. Pain was overlooked in part due to cultural-linguistic barriers and the prioritization of other health concerns. Nevertheless, patients—no matter where they live—have the right to receive pain treatment tailored to their individual needs. This implies the consideration of the culturally shaped pluralistic understanding of health and illness as well as corresponding health practices. Within the frame of the developed conceptual model, the presented findings indicate that culturally sensitive communication and empathic interaction with pastoralists and building trust could improve the patient-professional relationship. The result is the attention to pain management. This calls for further research involving pastoralist patients affected by pain to gain a deeper understanding of their perceptions and to better incorporate them into designing culturally sensitive interventions.

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Eleonore Baum has a background in clinical nursing and nursing science, having worked as a nurse in the global South. She later completed her studies in global health for her masters and is currently pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health. Eleonore Baum is passionate about the field of palliative care, particularly among the most vulnerable populations. Driven by a commitment to inclusivity, Ms. Baum strives to improve nursing practices in a diverse range of contexts, fostering a comprehensive and patient-centered approach to healthcare.


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