Global Health and Medical Anthropology

I choose Global Health and Medical Anthropology because it is a subject that interests me and one that I feel needs more attention. This type of medical anthropology focuses on the cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that revolve around health and healthcare around the world in both industrialized and developing countries. I have always been interested in why some cultures are able to provide a large degree health care to their citizens, while others in similar situations are unable to do the same. The cultural and political factors are of particular interest to me, since they shape the countries entire perception of health care and thus how the medical system is utilized. And although a biomedical approach might be considered best by most westernized people, these factors can either steer the population to embrace this approach or to find a different one that suits them.

In working for a non-anthropologist healthcare provider, there are several ways that an anthropological approach could benefit the patients. The most important way is by helping the patient and the provider to understand one another. By understanding the cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that affect the patient, the provider much more likely to be able to foster trust between himself and the patient, and to be able to develop a treatment plan suitable for the patient. A good example of where this could help was mentioned in the lectures concerning Malaria and how the nets meant to keep out mosquitos were be being ignored or improperly used. If anthropological skills had been put in use, the healthcare providers may have foreseen the problems of the nets and attempted to come up with a more viable solution. The patient’s entire lifestyle, not just their bodily health, needed to be considered, since it was being affected. This type of approach would also help the provider discern whether the patient is likely to comply with a treatment, what subjects are taboo and what factors might prevent the restoration of good health.

2 thoughts on “Global Health and Medical Anthropology

  1. I am also very interested in the cultural, political and socioeconomic factors that revolve around health and healthcare. I think the ethnocentrism that is so prevalent in our culture is also present in western health care. This type of thinking will always be displayed within the actions and decision making of medical staff working in foreign countries with cultures different than our own. This type of thinking and behavior may turn people away from global health organizations making the time spent and resources used by medical staff less productive that it should be. Through the use of anthropologists in the field during global health missions this problem can be corrected. Anthropologists using field methods such as participant observation or ethnography could study the culture before or during the arrival of medical staff. During this time the anthropologists can learn about the culture, perception of body, and lifestyles of the indigenous people. This would then be translated and explained to medical staff in the field. While on the ground anthropologists would be present to act as mediators between the indigenous people and medical staff. Anthropologists being present at the medical clinics would provide the locals with someone they could talk to who understands their culture and in turn this would free up medical staff from such interactions so they can treat other patients.

    I’m still trying to apply the information I have learned in this class to the real world. In fact I’m writing this from the hospital right now. I think I’m paying more attention to how medical staff attempt to interact with patients. I still have never had anyone ask me any cultural questions. They may have asked my religion at some point and typed it in the computer and never asked it again, but that would be the extent of the cultural interview. I do think if I alerted them of a problem I had, that was related to my cultural views, the hospital staff they would attempt to remedy the problem. I do see a large division between hospital staff (including nurses) and medical doctors. The hospital staff always seem very interested in the needs, emotions, and care of the patients. The medical doctors don’t seem to really care. They appear to only be concerned with the medical diagnosis and leave all other matters to the hospital staff. Whether this is true or not I’m not sure but it’s something that I have noticed since taking this class.

  2. I have always found global health to be most interesting in terms of its intersection with medical anthropology as global health seems (to me at least) to be the most objectively human approach to medicine. It encapsulates a person’s lifestyle as you mentioned, and this may help determine how a patient would like to be treated, and what the best available treatment options are. One thing that I have wondered, however, is if many populations would even need a medical anthropologist or global health specialist. It seems to me that it may be better in certain situations to leave these populations alone, as they may much prefer their own method of treatment, and it may even be considered offensive for us to tell them they’re wrong. However, it would never hurt to help out a population in need, while still considering their own needs and treatment methods.
    This class made me think a lot about how I view the medical practices of other cultures, specifically ours. I will probably approach medical treatment the same way I always have, but in the back of my mind I will be wondering whether I’m being treated the best way. I will likely always ask the question “other cultures have treated patients through shamanism or even placebo alone, so is what I’m going through really necessary?” However, since it’s our own medical practices I believe in, all I have to know is that they work for me, and our own culture.

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