Epidemiology and Medical Anthropology

I chose to elaborate on epidemiology and medical anthropology because I am interested in pursuing a public health degree, and epidemiology is an important aspect of public health. It will apply to my future career because I hope to provide health care to underprivileged communities around the globe, and understanding epidemiology and the distribution of illnesses is a vital component of public health. Through epidemiology, risk factors for disease can be identified, allowing for preventive medicine to inhibit the development and spread of diseases in a given community.

An anthropological view on epidemiology, particularly the applied anthropological approach, would be useful because it focuses on research and analysis for a specific problem and client, which is the basis of epidemiology. It would also be helpful so preventive measures can be developed and applied in specific contexts within communities because these solutions may not translate to different populations. As an epidemiologist, it will be of value to incorporate the cultural values of anthropology into medical practices. Culture is a huge factor in how populations will respond to treatments and the Kleinman and Benson article emphasizes that culture is not static but rather dynamic and comprised of multiple variables.

The Youtube video from this weeks materials emphasizes the importance of taking an anthropological approach to medicine and how important culture is in the treatment of illnesses. The video describes how a woman tried to prevent the spread of E. Coli in water from cattle farming in Peru because it was causing intestinal problems such as dysentery and young children were dying of dehydration. She raised money to campaign for boiling water and went through villages to teach women how to boil water to kill the parasites causing the infections. It seemed as though the village was responsive to her efforts, but when she returned to follow up she found people weren’t boiling their water because they believed it held the spirit of the Earth, which would be destroyed when they boiled it. Because cultural context was not taken into consideration in this case, the effort failed. Another example occurred in Ecuador, where intrauterine devices were distributed to women who wanted less pregnancies. However in this culture, menstruating women are secluded and can’t handle food, leaving their children without care. The IUD’s increased the length and severity of menstrual bleeding, which was problematic for this village. These instances emphasize the importance of considering the anthropological approach while administering treatments, as they should be culturally defined within relevance to the context of a culture.

1 thought on “Epidemiology and Medical Anthropology

  1. I really enjoyed your post, I too wrote about the relation of epidemiology and applied medical anthropology, but I liked how you discussed more of the contribution that anthropology makes on the cultural understanding side of the interdisciplinary relationship. I found the examples that you gave about the E. coli in Peru and the IUD’s in Ecuador to be really reflective on how the cultural insight anthropology can bring to epidemiology, is really important and essential for the success of implementing programs to combat major health problems. Another way that I thought anthropology can contribute to this intersection of fields of study was the theories and methods discussed in this week’s lecture. The theories used to look at macro-level issues, including cultural beliefs, economic systems, and political ecologies, can help the epidemiologists to focus on finding a solution to the big picture, as opposed to just fighting a disease. This is kind of like what was mentioned in the example about Peru and them not taking the bigger cultural picture into account when trying to finding a solution to the E. coli problem.
    I think this class will benefit me greatly in my future interactions with health care systems and providers. It will help me to navigate various health care systems, whether I am working in it or if I am a patient. I will be able to better understand how culture affects the various health care systems and ethnomedical practices I encounter, and this will in turn allow me to better treat patients or if I am the patient, to better receive proper care. This class will also help to inform my interactions with health care providers in western biomedicine as well as if I am involved in other international medical systems. I can gauge how the ethnomedical structure influences how the providers work with each other and with their patients, and I can therefore work more successfully with my instructors and colleagues.

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