Medical Anthropology and Epidemiology

I chose medical anthropology and epidemiology because I am interested in going into the medical field regarding disease with social context and the involvement necessary to facilitate legitimate solutions to disease and the death brought about by these diseases. With epidemiology studying the causes and patterns of disease and other health related conditions, it seems appropriate to discuss the use of drugs and how they have affected the impact of spreading diseases such as HIV/AIDS and other diseases that can be contracted from the exchange and use of needle injections. From the lectures, there are obviously different actions that potentially resolve problems, however to form actual solutions to problems anthropologists must expand to socially structured values and practices that have a major influence on how these diseases get spread and the patterns involved. The use and exchange of needle injections has contributed to the spread of disease and using social context to understand how we can stop the use and exchange is crucial. There are always ways of mediating these problems, however political, cultural, and economic influence shows the best ways of solving the problem at the source (Bourgois 2002). Though there is great medical knowledge and practice with physicians and other health providers such as nurses, they do not have the knowledge of the social and cultural constraints other areas have like anthropologists do. Through an anthropologists approach, the use of social power can have significant positive reinforcement in addressing these issues of the low class (homeless and other street users). It is more than telling these people what they are doing is wrong and why, but understanding their social and cultural factors that drive individuals to partake in such activities. When looking at different areas, it can be difficult as socioeconomic status has a large influence on education in this case which may likely be the cause of their status. Although educating some of these individuals may prove quite difficult, it will be much easier taking an anthropological approach as opposed to an attempt at telling them in a physicians sense why the things they are doing are bad and could be life threatening.

Bourgois, Philippe. Anthropology and epidemiology on drugs: the challenges of cross-methodological and theoretical dialogue. Science direct, 2002.


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  1. Alexis Snyder says:

    It is very clear how medical anthropology and epidemiology go hand in hand together. I liked how you used the example of drugs in regards to HIV/AIDS, something that is a major cause of spread in countries like our own. Epidemiologists can find areas of high drug usage to track the possible patterns of HIV/AIDS. Anthropologists as you pointed out can then really dive in and investigate the social facilitators of the lifestyle that leads to the eventual contraction of HIV and AIDS. Another benefit of anthropologists working with epidemiologists in this particular scenario is dealing with the damage that is done to the people closely associated with those affected by HIV and AIDS. I read in another student’s post on how one anthropologist is working with the community of orphaned children of parents who died from HIV/AIDS in Malawi. That same mind set can be used with the family and friends on people who contracted HIV/AIDs through drug use. Anthropologists could investigate the communities where incidents like that occur and try to find a way through the community to strengthen and create a motivation throughout that will hopefully in return reduce drug use. This is a perspective that would most likely be missed out on without the contribution of a medical anthropologist.

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