Pain and Discomfort: An Ethnographic Study of Pharmacological, Traditional and Complementary Medicine, (TCM) and Self-Care Models in Quito, Ecuador

Main Article Content

Alexis Rivas-Toledo


The research is framed within the recognition of three contemporary models that modern citizens intermittently turn to when facing the challenges of pain and discomfort: the biomedical model based on medicalization and the use of pharmaceuticals; traditional and complementary medicine (TCM) based on local-indigenous knowledge and the use of plants and natural compounds; the self-care model that combines elements of the first two and adds personal practices. The article presents the results of ethnographies in 265 households in Quito conducted between 2022 and 2023, addressing the questions: What were the main pharmaceuticals in the households? What were the meanings, values, and uses of industrial drugs in the households? Pharmaceuticals kept at home were inventoried, and elements of TCM were also found, demonstrating the combination of models in everyday life. The most striking pharmacological findings were the high concentration and storage in domestic spaces (drawers, countertops, showcases, rooms, bathrooms, among others) of analgesics, gastrointestinal medicines, antibiotics, supplements, and vitamins, and antiallergics. The anthropological meanings of medicinal compounds revolved around safety, trust, and the ease of purchase, use, and access in the household landscape. In pharmacological terms, the study demonstrates the active role of the medicalizing model that positions industrial pharmaceuticals as immediate responses structured around a population's habitus that normalizes their use and consumption. The research allows for a reconsideration of collective health and its contemporary challenges as a multiple, rational phenomenon, with characteristics of therapeutic hybridization and medical plurality.

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RIVAS-TOLEDO, Alexis. Pain and Discomfort: An Ethnographic Study of Pharmacological, Traditional and Complementary Medicine, (TCM) and Self-Care Models in Quito, Ecuador. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 12, n. 1, jan. 2024. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 03 mar. 2024. doi:
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