The intersection of applied medical anthropology I chose to investigate further is epidemiology. I am currently taking the online EPI 390 course with David Barondess and it has definitely opened my eyes up. The definition of Epidemiology is the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases. It studies how diseases come about and prevention and control techniques. For example, Epidemiology studies the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. It attempts to establish causality, meaning that smoking is directly related to lung cancer and is causing it, not just an association between the two. Although I am still unsure of my future in science, I chose this because Epidemiology definitely interests me. There are many things that can cause cancer and various diseases and Epidemiologists have the ability to detect these problems and establish causality.


An Anthropologists viewpoint can prove to be very useful in Epidemiology. For example, in the article “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team” Epidemiologists immediately come to the scene. Anthropologists are needed to understand the local customs and fears, which can go a long way in getting the communities to cooperate with the health officials in trying to determine the cause of this outbreak. Without this, an Epidemiologists’ work is useless, because they are unable to determine the lifestyles of the area that they are in. When Anthropologists were not brought in situations like this, medical staff had a difficult time bringing their sick to the medical staff. The local people tend to be scared of the international health care workers and Anthropologists help ease those fears and help the locals to try and seek treatment. Anthropologists help doctors understand how the local population perceives the disease, therefore, helping the doctors better understand how to treat the disease and prevent it in the future. They play a difficult role in getting familiar with the local people and outbreaks like these require the use of an Anthropologist.


Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. Accessed August 9, 2014.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Emily Tassoni says:

    You used great examples in your post to show how anthropologists and epidemiologists work together. Anthropologists are a very helpful link between medical professionals, such as epidemiologists, and the people they are treating. As you said, often the local people of non-Westernized cultures fear the outsiders who have come to help treat them, so having an anthropologist on site who can help explain to the locals they have nothing to fear is a necessity. In addition to helping the local people understand the health care workers, they can help health care workers understand the locals. They can work with the epidemiologists and teach them about the local culture and customs and show them the most efficient ways of treatment that respect and stay within the boundaries of the local culture. Having Epidemiologists understand some of the local customs can also help them to determine some of the causes of disease. For example, Kuru was an epidemic in New Guinea back in the early 1900s, and many doctors and scientists did biological tests and research to see if it was hereditary and to see how it was spread. None of the research was successful until one doctor combined both biological research and research of the New Guinea people’s cultural practices. He found that one of their practices was to eat their dead and that it was the consumption of dead humans that caused Kuru.

  2. Ava Peera says:

    I am also currently taking the EPI 390 class and I found it very interesting as well. Before the class I had no idea what epidemiology was or how it was relevant to my future. It has taught me a lot of new ideas about diseases and as you mentioned above, causality versus association. I think you did a great job explaining the importance of epidemiology and how epidemiologists work with anthropologists and doctors. I believe you hit the main points and didn’t overlook anything. Without an epidemiologist and anthropologist working together, there would be more obstacles faced when working in other countries and communities. It is important to find out the reason why a disease is occurring in order to try and not only get rid of the disease, but prevent it from reoccurring again in the future. This can’t be done without a good understanding of the community and the culture and traditions that the people practice. As we have seen, there are many factors that contribute to diseases and all of them need to be considered when trying to solve these diseases. Treatment is more than just prescribing a medication to victims and epidemiologists and anthropologists make sure to give the best treatment possible.

  3. Carrie Blackwell says:

    I agree with your post pertaining to epidemiology. When I researched epidemiology I found many of the same facts and definitions. I found how they look into certain diseases and find how different diseases affect different populations. As you mentioned I found that epidemiologists do look into the causality of certain disease trends. However, from the research that I conducted I thought epidemiologists were more interested in numbers versus an actual population. To further explain I didn’t realize how much epidemiologists looked into causation versus just correlation among different types of diseases.

    While reading your post I saw that you wrote about how anthropologists help branch the gap between medical aid workers and the local population medical staff are trying to help. This is a very good point to bring up. When thinking about helping different tribes around the world my focus was always how to help those certain people of interest. Also how to help the people of the tribe understand how medical aid workers want to help the people. I never thought about how anthropologists could help doctors too. They help the doctors understand how the disease is affecting people in several aspects of their lives. The anthropologists can even just communicate between the doctors and the affected people.

  4. Maureen John says:

    I didn’t know much about epidemiology until about a year ago when I got introduced to the topic through an anthropology class I was taking. I like how you explained how epidemiologists look at cause and effect for a disease. I found this particularly interesting because, like you mentioned, there are many factors that can cause a certain disease. It is really hard to pin point one exact cause and that is what makes epidemiology so interesting. There are many possibilities to a problem and there may be more than one solution that can be implemented. From the research I did on epidemiology, I found that epidemiologists track patterns of diseases throughout a population. I agree with your post about how an anthropologists’ viewpoint can be very beneficial for an epidemiologist. Anthropologists can provide insight onto a situation that needs cultural and ethnomedical understanding. I like that you used the example from the article, Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team” as this is a current event that is in the news. By focusing in on a populations culture and social norms, anthropologists can help epidemiologists get a better perspective of the certain culture and how that can affect how a disease is prevalent within that population.

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