Explaining Critical Perspectives in Medical Anthropology

We have benefitted enormously from the scientific and technological advances in medicine, but technology and hard science is not enough when considering ways in which to deliver the benefits to groups and societies. This is a time when Medical Anthropology is a much needed approach toward understanding the qualitative and quantitative aspects of bringing social group, society, and medicine into some form of synchronization in oder to actually deliver the appropriate care and treatment.

Where the patient doctor relationship is on a one to one basis, the relationship between the public health system and society as a whole is another animal. A lot is lost in the translation as political and economic factors can decimate even the most generally accepted goals of treating disease, disability and illness, whether in the local community or on a global basis. These levels are described as the microlevel, or doctor patient level, the intermediate level, or local health care system, and the macrosocial level, or global political and economic system.

On the individual level, health care has an interface between objective medical science and a patients subjective ideas about medicine. On the social level, there are interfaces of regulation, mass delivery of medical care and control of disease processes. Not only do the social, economic and political forces serve to control disease and deliver services, they can be the cause of disease and illness.

If there is no political savvy and cultural sensitivity, the resistance to participating in medical care initiatives that range from innoculation programs to preventive care systems can negate any knowledge or understanding of the proven benefits of such operations. There is Western medicine and there are all other kinds of medicine, and witch doctors are not all confined to African countries. They just get the most publicity. If religious, cultural, ethnic and political differences between people are not considered, the most well designed theoretical program can end up with wide gaps in the effectiveness of delivery techniques.

In priortizing medical care delivery, there have been some incredibly tone deaf decisions, with vast wastage of resources and money. If a population is not getting enough nutrition to sustain life, then mammograms are a pretty silly project to put in first place for money and resources. Getting proper nutrition and dealing with the effects of starvation are the priorities.

Even in the developed countries, there are religious sects that have a fundamental resistance to any form of modern medical care. In a flu pandemic, this can create pockets of individuals who will carry the consequences and the disease, no matter how comprehensive the vaccination programs. Anthropology will serve to identify those areas of resistance with a qualitative approach that crosses many disciplines and methodologies that are not available to other public health leaders and professionals who design health care delivery programs.

As a result, from the one on one relationship to the global political and economic environments, medical anthropology has the ability to identify and give some effective perspectives that may not even be widely known, but which may have enormous impact in the success of public health care delivery.