Why Medical Anthropology Works and Why More Countries Should Be Implementing It

For years, most nations have struggled to create an equal and effective healthcare system for its people because of their failure to recognize inequality. Many have instead chosen to fall into a “fee-for-service” system in which the neediest are ignored and the necessitiesof only the rich are met. Therefore, in order to properly understand the disparities found in a community’s experience of disease and its access to health care, “one needs a deep understanding of history and political economy” (Paul Farmer). Now, more than ever, with increasing mortality rates and global dissatisfaction toward the approach of modern medicine, the need to look at a people’s social, political, and economic history in order to properly treat has proven to be crucial. Such a holistic approach is what ultimately stands in the way of universal and effective health care and proper diagnosis of the issues at hand: social and economic inequality.

         Amid the global confusion of how to approach community health disparities and unequal healthcare models, Medical Anthropology suggests that in order to create an efficient healthcare system, social and cultural constructs of society must be understood. From the social origins of illness to the stigma and fear surrounding certain diseases, this perspective turns a critical lens toward our society’s institutions of power that continue to further disease and poor health. For example, in its analysis of industry contribution to pollution and the serious health disadvantages it creates, the Medical Anthropology perspective attributes such lasting calamities to social and economic hierarchies that have prevented the poor from bettering their health.  Thus, it is clear that for healthcare to reach those most in need, a major shift is needed in how we assess and define health. Anthropological discourses, like Medical Anthropology also encourage countries like our own to understand health concerns not only in a medical context but in the context of social, economic, and political inequalities. Implementing such strategies will thus help us hold various institutions of power responsible for their actions, and it will inspire nations, cultures, and communities to re-think and recognize health concerns within their diverse social contexts.  

         As an Anthropology major myself, I think a discourse in which diseases and public health issues are viewed both biologically and socially is crucial for the betterment of our society, both on an individual and community-based level. Although it is a newer perspective, it is also encouraging to see more countries consider social contexts and inequity when studying various diseases and how they affect their people!

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