W6 Reflection: Epidemiology

Epidemiology is the branch of medicine that is used to find the causes of various health problems and diseases in populations; using both the patient and the community to diagnose and treat the root problems of a disease. [1]

I picked this intersection as if I were to become a doctor, I would like to become an Infectious Diseases Specialist, and infectious disease and epidemiology are often correlated.  It saddens me that in this day in age, there are people out there who do not have access to vaccinations that could potentially save their life.  There is such a huge disparity in the treatment of certain diseases in first world versus third world nations, and I believe that by  understanding epidemiology more, scientists and medical professionals will find ways to make vaccinations and treatments more available to those that need them,

The article by Linda Poon is a perfect example of how an anthropological viewpoint can help medical situations.  As the article says, “Understanding local customs — and fears — can go a long way in getting communities to cooperate with international health care workers.”  Even if doctors have a cure, it does not help if the local communities are too scared to see them.  Anthropologists extensively study, and even live in, different cultures so that they can learn the customs and traditions of different people across the world.  For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, the locals often believe sorcery to be the cause of a quick death.  A medical professional going in might not know about this superstition.  An anthropologist might know that Ebola was seen as a gemo that killed people for not honoring the Gods.  The anthropologist would be able to tell this to the medical team, and help devise a way to get the locals to trust them, instead of thinking that they were a “body part” team trying to separate them from their loved ones.[2]

Anthropologists, in my opinion, are more connected with people than medical professionals, and their viewpoint is vital in epidemiology as they know how different things affect different people from different cultures.  What may work on the Chinese may not work on the Libyans, and what works on the Spanish might not work on the Azerbaijanis.  While medical professionals should technically know how medications affect everyone in the world, I do believe that the immersion makes anthropologists more knowledgeable.



[1] CDC. “What is Epidemiology?.” Accessed August 12, 2016.

[2] Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. Accessed August 12, 2016.

3 thoughts on “W6 Reflection: Epidemiology

  1. I agree with your observation regarding anthropologists and their uses in assisting medical professionals when it comes to finding effective ways to administer treatment to people from different cultures. As you mentioned, one tactic of people of a certain culture to trust the medical professionals attempting to administer treatment may not work in another culture, or may even have an adverse affect. While I agree that anthropologists are more knowledgeable when it comes to the cultures and practices of a certain people compared to the scientists administering the treatment, I do not agree that they are more knowledgeable overall. I believe professionals in the fields of study regarding anthropology and infectious diseases and epidemiology are both extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields; however the basis of each field is vastly different. While professionals from each field both focus on helping people in need, the knowledge and experience each individual has can be quite different, while still of equal value. After reading several articles from class as well as others I found online, I feel that it is vita for every response team of medical professionals flown into an area to control the spread of a deadly disease should have an anthropologist who is an expert on the local culture with them. This will lead to a more complete understanding of how the local people treat the disease and can greatly improve cooperation with the medical team, leading to a quicker control of the outbreak.

  2. Medical anthropology has a unique perspective and what they bring to the table has helps make the decision regarding treatment and healthcare better. Epidemiology needs medical anthropologist to analyze the origin, cause, spread and the treatment or maybe local treatment. I think medical anthropology connect the modern medicine to the culture and help both parties to a combine stand, in your post I like how you find a articles that reflection on the recent found epidemic. Doctor in these article where presented as unaware of cultural background and belief as how the diseases or the epidemic is seen in the culture like sub-Saharan Africa locals thinking that believe sorcery could be the cause of quick death, so while the doctor is treating the patient would know how to talk, treat the patient sometimes. For the doctor to also be aware to not to portray them self’s as a body part team willing to separate them from their loved ones. Medical Anthropologist provide important knowledge to help doctor treat and understand the patients views the right way. I agree with on how the anthropologists are more connected to the people and also explore different and know what kind of medical treatment work for one culture would wouldn’t work for the other. They also have the knowledge on what offenses the patient which is important in patient care.

  3. Hello,

    I thought this was a very well written article about the intersection between epidemiology and medical anthropology. I also chose to further investigate epidemiology this week. I am studying optometry, so I chose to focus on the spread of an eye disease – glaucoma. Although I do not think studying or working with optometry related epidemiology is in my future, I do think it is interesting to find the causes of various health problems and diseases in populations; using both the patient and the community to diagnose and treat the root problems of a disease.

    I liked how you focused on the lack of vaccinations in many areas of the world. I also agree that with the technology and resources we have today, hopefully we are able to provide vaccines to everyone in the very near future.

    Also, like you mentioned, anthropologists have a unique way of approaching medical situations that many doctors lack. Anthropologists are experts in “getting in the patient’s bubble” and truly understanding the patient’s current condition – apart from only the medical aspect. This gives anthropologists a very accurate understanding of the patent’s condition and can play a huge role in providing the proper care for the patient.

    Without the effort put forth by many anthropologists, I believe we could not be as advanced as we are in the world of medicine today.

Leave a Reply