Epidemiology and Medical Anthropology

My personal interests regarding my future career rely heavily on nursing. I see myself in the ERĀ  where you have to be quick on your feet and a good problem solver. If I were to choose an area in Medical Anthropology it would be Epidemiology. I feel studying an epidemic, the source and cause, would be my calling if I were to pursue Medical Anthropology. I would like the problem solving that comes with it and I would really love traveling the world in search of the sources of the epidemics and working in the hospitals to find ways to better the people’s lives.

Taking an anthropological approach to epidemiology is absolutely essential. Not only is it important to problem solve how to treat the epidemic, it is also just as important to find out what the actual source is, why it is, and where it comes from. I believe the problem solving regarding the source comes solely from an anthropological approach. Paul Farmer’s work is an excellent example to what I am talking about. He is a medical doctor, but he solved an epidemic problem in Haiti with a focus on his Medical Anthropology background. He took the source of the epidemic and problem solved. Doctors coming in and treating the sick in Haiti only went so far, the doctors can’t stay forever, but when Paul Farmer and some co-founders created Partners in Health, they created it with one huge difference, self sufficiency. I don’t think a regular epidemiologist could have figured this out themselves, it took the approach of a Medical Anthropologist to look at the source of the problem and figure that it was best to give these people self sufficiency, and it worked. We need to enable people with knowledge, yes, but just like the TribalJazzman video, we need to keep in mind that other anthropological factors play a huge role in healthcare, a factor such as culture. The culture required the tribes to drink the water even though it was contaminated because it was required that they drink the water as the Earth gave it to them. But it gets even deeper than that. For example, the article from Kleinman/Benson explains that it’s not only a culture perspective that we need to understand, but rather we need to ask what matters most to the patient, in regards to what they want and expect out of their healthcare. Overall I feel an anthropological approach is necessary to ensure a complete and fully successful outcome for epidemiology.

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  1. Rebecca Chockley says:

    It is true that medical anthropologists can help with ensuring that the optimal solution is accepted by the community or patient. Non-adoption of solutions can occur for many cultural reasons, for instance, the example from lecture material about the Chinese student that stopped treatment because her culture stigmatized the name of the condition that she had. This was resolved after the doctor called it something else. Then she was ok with seeking treatment. The water example that you mentioned is another difficulty that people from a western mentality might have when dealing with seemingly illogical religious beliefs.
    Another useful function of a medical anthropologist is the ability to track culturally specific modes of transmission of disease or infection. This type of situation happened in New Guinea where a tribe had been struck down by a prion disease which is spread by consuming human flesh that is already infected. Medical anthropologists determined that it was the funerary practices of the tribe that put them at risk. The females of the tribe ritually consume the brain matter of the deceased individual. This then leads to more funerals and more ritual consumption. Understanding the mode of transmission can lead to an interruption of the cycle of infection, death, and spread of the prions.

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