Epidemiology and Medical Anthropology

        I am most interesting in the preventative side of medicine; therefore I plan on pursuing a career within the field of public health. I have always believed it is vital to treat individuals by considering all of the different possible factors that could be influencing their health such as economical, political, cultural, and social. Now I realize it is not only important to consider how these different factors are affecting an individual’s biological health, but more specifically the way these factors are influencing the way an individual may perceive or experience their illness. Furthermore, I have always been intrigued by the investigative aspect of science which has led me to look further into the field of epidemiology which investigates the origin and spread of many different categories of disease.
          As an anthropologist working with a professional within the field of public health with a specialty in epidemiology who has not been educated in anthropological methods and theories, I would be able to contribute towards the implementation of new preventative health practices by decreasing the chance of noncompliance. Noncompliance is when patients choose not to follow an implemented medical protocol. Instead of just throwing forward a solution to a health problem, and expecting the people of the culture to not only comply with the policy but also to continue to maintain it, regardless of their cultural beliefs seems far from practical. Therefore, as an anthropologist I could do some qualitative anthropological research by conducting interviews with the people of this culture to better understand what they think about this implemented solution, or more specifically whether or not it conflicts with one of their strong cultural beliefs.

        As described in the YouTube video “Medical Anthropology,” some non-anthropologist medical providers tend to underestimate the power of cultural beliefs. To better illustrate how a proposed solution to prevent the spread of disease may not be successful even if the “plan” seems flawless I will use an example from the YouTube video, “Medical Anthropology.” In the video, a woman in Brazil attempted to prevent the spread of E.coli in a village in the Andes by teaching the people to boil the water before use. The use of this simple education seemed promising, but ultimately fell through. Eight months later, when the woman decided to ask the people why they weren’t boiling the water, she realized she overlooked a very powerful cultural belief. These people believed that by boiling the water they would be destroying one of the essential Spirits of the Earth resulting in the persistence of E .coli within the village. By taking into consideration the beliefs of a culture before implementing preventative protocols, the implemented solution will be much more effective for the people of that culture.


YouTube: “Medical Anthropology”- Tribal Jazzman Scholar, Episode #26; 2011.


1 thought on “Epidemiology and Medical Anthropology

  1. You did a really good job at looking at how medical anthropology can contribute to epidemiology. I agree that it would be most useful in understanding how people view their illness and finding out how the cultural of the person could affect the treatment for the disease. Another thing I think medical anthropology can contribute is a way to understand how cultural practices can lead to the development and spread of disease in different populations. This would be very useful not only in finding out a way to help fight the disease, but it would give a clear indication of what ways it could not be treated due to cultural practices.
    I think this class will change my interactions with health care in the future because it makes me realize that biomedicine is not the only form of treatment that can help, so I will probably be more open to alternative forms of treatment than I would have been before taking this class. I also think I will be more likely to question doctors because I am no longer convinced that they always know the best course of treatment for their patients, I can see them as flawed humans know instead of super geniuses that know everything.

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