Friday, October 18, 2013

“What is Medical Anthropology?”

Anna Lisa Albers, Research Scholar Medical Anthropology had a presentation on the above topic on the 17th October 2013, 10.30am – 11.30am in the ORI Seminar Room. In the presentation summary of her work, Albers view Medical anthropology as a relatively young (second half of 20th century) subfield of anthropology that draws upon social, cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology in order to understand those factors influencing health and well-being, the experience and distribution of illness, the prevention and treatment of sickness, healing processes, the social relations of therapy management, and the cultural importance and utilization of pluralistic medical systems (Society for Medical Anthropology. Depending on their theoretical orientation, ranging from a Medical ecology or Biocultural approach where disease is considered to have biological causes combined with a focus on environmental causes, to a more symbolic approach that considers disease as a social construct (Interpretative Medical Anthropology) to the Ethnomedicine Approach that focuses on how members in different populations think about disease in cultural terms, to finally a multilevel Critical Medical Anthropology that takes into account the broader socio-economic and political influences on disease, Medical Anthropologists study the social, cultural, historical, economic, political, environmental, structural and/or institutional factors that influence the experience of illness, the organization of health care, health seeking behavior and disease distribution. It is the holistic and ethnographic approach of the discipline and the methods of data collection that belong to this that makes Medical Anthropology unique. (Medical) Anthropologists believe that people from different cultural groups can only be understood in terms of their own standards and values. It is the goal of the (Medical) Anthropologist to discover how people view their own world, their own life, and the challenges that they encounter. This is called the emic view. (Medical) Anthropologist try to get insight in the way others experience, see, and feel things by doing extended fieldwork, observing and sometimes conducting participant observation with the study population. Other (mostly qualitative) methods often used in data collection are in-depth unstructured interviews with key informants, Focus Group Discussions and Rapid Appraisal Techniques such as photo elicitation, community mapping exercises and the drawing of time line or ‘sick narratives’. Topics within the current work of other ORI academic staff that could be approached from a Medical Anthropological perspective are for example the distribution of and also the local perception and knowledge of infectious diseases (Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS) and vector borne disease such as malaria, the medicinal use of plants, gender roles and Sexual Reproductive Health, environmental health issues, access to health services and health seeking behavior in specific groups and areas and indigenous knowledge and healing systems.

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