Ethnomedical Approach

All six approaches are very important, but personally I think the ethnomedical approach will be the most useful for me in studying health.  I think that many people in biomedicine are well-versed in the biological aspects of health, but are not as knowledgeable in the ethnomedical aspects.  The ethnomedical approach allows health care professionals to cater to individual cultural beliefs, while providing a solution to the illness that is presented.  It is important to consider how different cultures understand, react and cope to illnesses in order to provide effective treatment.  I also believe that it is important to look at different health systems and not only biomedicine when treating an illness.  Traditional medicine is valued in many other cultures and I think it is important not to discount those beliefs and values.

At first, I think it was very difficult to distinguish between disease and illness, especially because I have grown up hearing and using the words synonymously.  Now, I know there is clear distinction between the two, and they do not have the same meaning.  Disease is a physical manifestation with symptoms specific to an ailment.  A disease can be genetic, viral, bacterial, etc.  An illness is subjective and varies depending on personal perceptions of the disease.  Illness is determined by cultural and social factors, and results in differing perception of diseases from person to person.

In his article, Horace Miner is referring to Western culture, specifically, American culture.  I though Miner did a wonderful job with his article because it provided an alternate, outsider’s view of American society.  I first began to realize Miner was referring to American culture when he described the highly developed market economy, but I only fully caught on when he described the powerful rituals and shrines in each household that are used to avert the ugly characteristics of the human body.

Miner describes the “holy-mouth-men” (dentists) and the daily rites rituals involving the mouth.  I thought they were quite interesting because it sounds extremely uncomfortable and gruesome at first.  In reality, the whole purpose of the “holy-mouth-men” is to preserve the teeth for as long as possible and eliminate any pain from improper care of the teeth.  I think this ritual also provides good insight into the social aspects of healthcare in the US.  Physical appearances are valued and people are often judged and treated based on the way they appear and present themselves.

Another ritual described in the Nacerima article is the latipso, where the medicine men perform elaborate ceremonies to treat sick people.  What I thought was the most interesting part of this ritual was the expectation of payment and the refusal to treat the gravely ill if they cannot present a lavish gift.  This demonstrates how hospitals will not admit patients if they don’t have healthcare or enough money to pay for treatment. I think this really portrays the flaws in the healthcare system and the huge value of money and materialistic goods in American culture and biomedicine.


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