Clinical Topics — Other Topics

Eyelid Incision

The eyelids are incised in cases of eye disease. In cases of eye disease, eyelids may be cut vertically and blood allowed to stream into the eyes.1 In Gondar, 98.8% believed that eyelid incision is useful in treating eye disease, and 19% of children surveyed had undergone this.2

Merfey/Injection preference

Many Ethiopians ascribe particular efficacy to injections, and prefer them over other routes of administration.1

Blue gingival tattoo

In gingival tattooing, the unanesthetized gingiva is punctured repeatedly with a needle to which a mixture of soot and resin from the leaves of plants such as Datura stramonium has been applied. Tattooing is performed to relieve oral pain or, more commonly, for aesthetic reasons. Gingival tattooing is performed primarily in women from 10-30 years old.3

Bad news

Ethiopians prefer to hear of the death of a family member in a carefully mediated manner even at the expense of a modest delay in delivering the news. Bad news is conveyed at an optimal time and place by family members and close friends, who gradually prepare the recipient for the disclosure. It is optimal for this to occur in the person’s residence, in the morning hours to avoid sleep disturbance, and in the company of many others to allow collective mourning and mutual support.

While Ethiopian culture frowns upon emotional outbursts, mourning offers a rare exception. Ethiopians tear their clothes, beat their chests, and wail to express their grief following a tragic event.

In general, a poor prognosis for a serious illness is not shared with the patient, but with family members, who themselves determine whether to convey the information to the patient and the best manner for doing so.1,4


1.) Hodes RM. Cross-cultural medicine and diverse health beliefs — Ethiopians abroad. West J Med 1997; 166:29-36.
2.) Dagnew MB, Damena M. Traditional child health practices in communities in north-west Ethiopia. Trop Doct 1990; 20(1):40-41.
3.) Brooks JK, Reynolds MA. Ethnobotanical tattooing of the gingiva: Literature review and report of a case J Am Dent Assoc 2007 138: 1097-1101.
4.) Beyene, Y. Cross-cultural medicine, a decade later – medical disclosure and refugees, telling bad news to Ethiopian patients. West J Med 1992; 157:328-332