Cholera control and anti-Haitian stigma in the Dominican Republic: from migration policy to lived experience

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Anthropology and Medicine








Cholera; Dominican Republic; migration; moral experience; stigma


© 2017, © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. As cholera spread from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, Haitian migrants, a largely undocumented and stigmatized population in Dominican society, became a focus of public health concern. Concurrent to the epidemic, the Dominican legislature enacted new documentation requirements. This paper presents findings from an ethnographic study of anti-Haitian stigma in the Dominican Republic from June to August 2012. Eight focus group discussions (FGDs) were held with Haitian and Dominican community members. Five in-depth interviews were held with key informants in the migration policy sector. Theoretical frameworks of stigma's moral experience guided the analysis of how cholera was perceived, ways in which blame was assigned and felt and the relationship between documentation and healthcare access. In FGDs, both Haitians and Dominicans expressed fear of cholera and underscored the importance of public health messages to prevent the epidemic's spread. However, health messages also figured into experiences of stigma and rationales for blame. For Dominicans, failure to follow public health advice justified the blame of Haitians and seemed to confirm anti-Haitian sentiments. Haitians communicated a sense of powerlessness to follow public health messages given structural constraints like lack of safe water and sanitation, difficulty accessing healthcare and lack of documentation. In effect, by making documentation more difficult to obtain, the migration policy undermined cholera programs and contributed to ongoing processes of moral disqualification. Efforts to eliminate cholera from the island should consider how policy and stigma can undermine public health campaigns and further jeopardize the everyday ‘being-in-the-world’ of vulnerable groups.

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