W5: Structural Violence: An injustice to the vulnerable

Structural violence is something that a lot of people are not aware of. Unless you are a medical anthropologist or a health care physician, it may not be something that one thinks of when it comes to disease and illness. Paul Farmer, both a physician and a medical anthropologist, defines structural violence as “…one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way…The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people” (Gabriel, 2016).

In the United States, we tend to think about all of our health problems through a biomedical viewpoint, which has helped our country to reach many achievements within the medical field (Gabriel, 2016). This biomedical viewpoint has helped us, but also may negatively influence out health industry. For example, in the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall, a little girl needs emergency help and is taken to the emergency room. The doctor takes notes down about the case, and when he re-reads the notes, he notices that he refers to the little girl as a “he” all throughout the notes (Fadiman, 1997). The doctor was overly focusing on the biological and medical side of treating the patient, so much so that he easily forgot about the social issues in the case, the patient’s gender (Fadiman, 1997). This is something that needs to change within our health care system. Aspects such as social, political, and economic issues need to be focused on more often and recognized as influences on health and illness, almost as much as the biomedical aspect of illness and disease.

On the other hand, issues such as mistreating of vulnerable patients and populations can tie into structural violence. People in other countries who are sick are sometimes immediately quarantined when they contract a type of illness. This kind of treatment is not the most effective way to go about resolving an illness, and this is the kind of “violence” that is referred to within structural violence. The reason that other countries tend to suffer more when it comes to disease and illness is because these countries refer to the fact that social issues play a great deal on their health illness, more so than we do in the United States (Gabriel, 2016). Social, political, and economical issues influence health and illness more than we actually think they do. There are ways to prevent and fight future outbreaks, while still treating patients, with regard to these issues. It is necessary for physicians to begin seeing structural interventions as part of their job, along with the biomedical aspect of viewing the disease (Farmer, Nizeye, Stulac and Keshavjee, 2006). Right now, doctors consider their main job to be biomedical examinations of a patient and while this is obviously important, social, political, and economic issues surrounding the patient’s life can have just as great of an importance as the biological issues, and can directly influence a patient’s health (Farmer, Nizeye, Stulac and Keshavjee, 2006). It is not necessary for doctors to only focus on the structural inhibitions, but if they are recognized as influences on health, along with biomedical issues, then this will be an effective way to observe health and illness, possibly preventing future outbreaks.

Gabriel, Cynthia. “Critical Medical Anthropological Theory.” ANP 370 Culture Health and Illness. N.p., 2015. Web 3 Aug. 2016

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall. 1997.

Farmer PE, Nizeye B, Stulac S, Keshavjee S. “Structural Violence and Clinical Medicine.” N.p., 2006. PLOS Med 3(10): e449. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030449

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