Medical Anthropology and Community Health

I chose the intersection of medical anthropology and community health based on interest from previous research in community health and because I would like to one day work in a rural, underserved area.  My research on the use of traditional medicine in the Peruvian Highlands echoed much of the lecture this week in that there needs to be emphasis on the cultural context in order to effectively treat a particular population.  One of the biggest problems with the modern health initiatives in Peru that I researched was simply not examining the culture closely enough in the implementation of the initiatives.  One of the most well-known examples of this took place in 1955, when rural households were encouraged to boil their water to prevent unnecessary illness.  Adoption rates of water boiling were extremely low, but this was because the practice interfered with the local cultural beliefs about the distinction between hot and cold.  In this case, hot water was strongly linked to illness due to its heavy use in treating illnesses within the culture.  I think medical anthropology has an irreplaceable role in community health and should always be one of the primary considerations in planning a modern health initiative or intervention.

If I were working for a visiting doctor unfamiliar with the local cultural context, I would strongly advocate the use of a medical anthropologist.  That expert would be able to bring the physician up to speed about local beliefs and practices to understand how illness is perceived in this unfamiliar community and would therefore, be able to treat patients more effectively.  This method has the potential to assuage any local concerns or fears associated with unfamiliar treatments and develop trust between the community and the health care providers, particularly if the medical anthropologist or physician could walk a patient through a procedure or treatment in a way that is logical in their cultural context.

Trickett, E. “From “Water Boiling in a Peruvian Town” to “Letting them Die”: Culture, community intervention, and the metabolic balance between patience and zeal.” American Journal of Community Psychology. (2011): 58-68.

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