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Waiting for “Good Care”. Biomedicine and the Elderly in North Sulawesi, Indonesia

New Publication by Piet van Eeuwijk


Older persons in North Sulawesi (Indonesia) shared a long experience with biomedical health interventions during Soeharto’s New Order administration. These vertically and top-down structured development activities in health no longer fit current demographic, epidemiological, and social transformations in Indonesia. The rapidly aging communities, the sharp increase in non-communicable diseases, and aging impairments along with rapidly changing household assemblages call for a biomedical public health that ideally covers cure and care in equal shares. This understanding and vision of “good care” leads to a dynamic appropriation of biomedical services initiated by older persons. Here the monthly local health post sessions for elderly people occupy center stage of this appropriative process: a highly formalized and ritualized medical check-up based on the administration of drug which covers basic curative needs. In addition, the local cadres for aged persons play a significant role as intermediary and broker between an elderly patient, his/her caregiver(s), and the health professionals. Yet, except for the cadres’ home visits, the existing biomedical health system is not very concerned with eldercare (or social care) at household level— for ill older persons fully dependent on kin care truly a “missing link.” Biomedicine in turn increasingly attempts to appropriate elder health as its new market commodity. Thereby, the four fields of pharmaceuticalization, national health insurance scheme, biomedicalization as control and exercise of power in care, and commercialization of elder health support biomedicine in its pursuit of the hegemonic appropriation of older persons’ health and illness. However, dislocations and disjunctures due to the Covid-19 pandemic clearly reveal the structural vulnerability of this biomedical health system: Its sudden unreliability and unsustainability leads not only to a loss of trust in it, but also to a higher degree of vulnerability on the side of older persons in need of cure and care.

VAN EEUWIJK, P. (2021): Waiting for “Good Care”. Biomedicine and the Elderly in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Moussons 38 (2): 29-56.