Final Project: Tuberculosis

The study of medical anthropology will help to illuminate our understanding of tuberculosis because although the medical field can tell us how the disease is spread and different medicinal options to vaccinate and treat it, there are underlying cultural factors involved that will determine the medical outcome. Physicians cannot simply treat all sufferers the same across the world because they come from different environments, cultures, or may have their own personal beliefs that would affect their exposure or willingness to accept treatment. Taking all of this into account is the best way to analyze how certain populations react to TB and what the best method of prevention would be for them.

The biological and ecological approaches of medical anthropology look at a health disparity from the perspective of a culture and its adaptation in relation to the environment. A biological anthropologist would believe that there is some sort of biological variation present that accounts for an individual’s behavioral or cultural differences. They also would look very closely at the ecosystem surrounding the specific culture and the interaction between them. In relation to studying tuberculosis, it would be helpful to examine TB transmission within the environment and how it is spread between individuals. Tuberculosis is spread through the air in the form of droplets when infected individuals cough, speak, or sneeze in close proximity to each other. In developing countries such as India, nearly half of their population is already infected with the bacterium (Kanabus, 2016). When large amounts of the population lives in poverty and in close proximity to one another, it is difficult to quarantine infected individuals and stop them from spreading the disease.

The ethnomedical aspect of medical anthropology studies a particular cultures distinction between what is considered an illness or a disease. This focuses on what the cultural definition of the ailment is and the specific healing practices surrounding it. Tuberculosis is most abundant in poverty stricken areas where seeking medical treatment can be too costly for individuals to afford (WHO, 2016). Understanding this and lowering costs of TB treatments and preventative medicine in the most infected areas would be a route that an ethnomedical anthropologist would take.

The experiential approach to medical anthropology examines how individuals affected by tuberculosis deal with the disease and how they discuss it among others within their culture. The narratives that sufferers of TB use are important to anthropologists because it can help them understand the medical choices that individuals make as well as how they interact and discuss with others in their culture. With tuberculosis, the mass media and other propaganda has been used to influence a populations behavior when seeking treatment and how the disease is viewed within society (Pernick, 1978). An experiential anthropologist would study how these strategies persuade the culture in preventing an increase in the tuberculosis epidemic.

The critical approach analyzes an individual’s personal views of the world and dichotomies such as life/death and sickness/health. The critical approach is valuable when studying tuberculosis because like the experiential method, it would further researchers understanding of how the illness is perceived within the culture and why individuals may not seek treatment. An example of this is seen in India, where there is a stigma surrounding TB and those who become infected are seen as poverty stricken and dirty. Even if they do seek treatment, they cannot afford the medicine or aftercare (Mckay, Anand, 2012).

The applied approach is how anthropologists apply modern medicine with other aspect of a cultures belief system and use that perspective to assess and treat different social and medical conditions. For the study of tuberculosis this method is useful because it would help anthropologists and medical practitioners understand what treatments would work best for a certain community or culture and provide the best outcome possible. A prime example of the applied approach is Erin Koch, and anthropologist who used this method to examine a TB outbreak in Georgia during the early 21st century (Mcdowell, 2015). She analyzed the previous Soviet-style treatment of tuberculosis and helped to guide it to a more standardized form of care which dramatically increased the recovery and livelihood of the patients.

In my opinion I believe that of all the different disciplines of medical anthropology, the applied approach would work best in effectively understanding and treating a disease like tuberculosis. Medical advances have uncovered many ways to kill the bacterium or prevent it from spreading, but if you do not incorporate that knowledge into the interworking’s of a culture, it will not be beneficial to the community.

-Anand, Geeta, and Betsy Mckay. “Awakening to Crisis, India Plans New Push Against TB.” The Wall Street Journal. December 25, 2012. Accessed 08/18/2016

-“Global Tuberculosis Report.” World Health Organization. 2015. Accessed 08/18/2016

-Kanabus, Annabel “Information about Tuberculosis”, GHE, 2016,, Accessed 08/18/2016

-Mcdowell, Andrew. 2015. Erin Koch’s Free Market Tuberculosis. Somatosphere. Accessed 08/18/2016

-PERNICK, M. S. (1978), Thomas Edison’s Tuberculosis Films: Mass Media and Health Propaganda. Hastings Center Report, 8: 21–27. doi:10.2307/3560425 Accessed 08/18/2016

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