The practice of crude tonsillectomy (CT), performed by traditional healers for a locally defined illness known as gapfura, has become increasingly common in south-western Uganda. This study describes perceptions of gapfura and examines the intersection of locally defined and biomedical illness. Kisoro District Hospital (KDH) staff (n=55) were surveyed, with 95% reporting that CT caused death, and 60% estimating that recipients died as a result of the procedure. Surveys of community members (n=737) revealed that 95% were familiar with gapfura as a common illness with variable symptoms; syndrome classification categorised 58% of descriptive responses as ‘upper respiratory infection’, while 42% suggested more severe diseases. Although only 26% of community respondents told the interviewer that CT was the best treatment, 47% believed the majority of community members use CT and 43% of those treated for gapfura within the past year received CT. The divergent perceptions of community members and allopathic health providers may be rooted in the use of gapfura as an idiom reflecting larger social stressors and CT as a response to this distress. Interventions to curb the practice of CT need to be multifaceted and will involve further anthropologic investigation, public health involvement, and education that encompasses the social context of disease.