This week I want to look at the intersection of applied anthropology with the field of epidemiology. I’ve acquired two specializations during my undergrad at Michigan State, one in Bio Ethics (BHS) and the other in Scientific Policy (STEPPS). A central theme to both of these areas of study is on public health. As per these specializations, I took EPI 390 with Dr. Barondess this past semester and was inspired by the subject of epidemiology. I’m now looking into a post-grad degree in the subject either in a masters or PhD program, or as part of an MD-PhD pursuit. The classic definition of epidemiology is the study of disease within populations. Clearly an anthropological perspective can lend crucial insight as to how populations are defined in the first place, as well as how they operate which may illuminate critical information for studying the spread of disease. Anthropology is also exceptionally useful in determining “disease” definitions, as we’ve learned in this course already. The article via the NSF highlights the interplay between epidemiological data gathering and anthropologic cultural insight, and explains that the number of anthropologists employed by the CDC has steadily risen in recent years1. The NPR story covering the Ebola outbreak in Guinea further illustrates this reality with very direct examples. As well-intended the World Health Organization may be, it along with its associated international medical care providers such as Doctors Without Borders often overlook crucial pieces of cultural information—Information that would directly help these organizations to better serve the communities of the developing world. The first thing an anthropologically-informed mind can realize, for example, is the profound shock Guinean communities—who have little to no perception of Western medicine—might experience at seeing biohazard-suited teams cart off loved ones for isolation2. Effective disease containment strategies will acknowledge this reality of cultural division and proceed accordingly.
Winslow, Deborah. “Welcome to Fall at NSF Anthropology.” Anthropology News, 2007, 51-52.
Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. April 2, 2014. Accessed August 7, 2014.