In the modern world, much attention is paid to health literacy and the exchange of necessary information. Community involvement cannot be ignored because this practice makes multiple sources available for creating new strategies and understanding human behaviors (Scrimshaw 7653). Along with social scientists, health professionals, and researchers, anthropologists play a crucial role in addressing public health issues, eliminating disparities, and supporting wellness (Stellmach et al.). Cultural anthropology is a broad term that aims at studying cultures around the globe, their histories, and the impact on human life. The health and medicine umbrella topic contributes to the development of a new field, medical anthropology, the goal of which is to rely on cultural knowledge for a better understanding of human health and diseases. In this essay, a critical medical anthropology paradigm will be used to investigate the worth of infectious disease education in India and social responsibilities in promoting positive health outcomes and public well-being.
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Cultural Anthropology and Health
This paper focuses on the importance of infectious disease education for people who live in India. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research et al., infectious and associated diseases, including communicable, maternal, and nutritional disorders, count for about 61% of the total disease burden in the country (17). Certain attempts to reduce infections were made, and positive results were achieved. Still, such problems as diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, anemia, and tuberculosis determine the quality of Indian life (Indian Council of Medical Research et al. 18). Therefore, new strategies and approaches to understanding the epidemiology of diseases have to be adopted, and cultural anthropology is one of them. Anthropology is the study of humans and all those factors that define human behaviors and relationships through space and time (Stellmach et al.). Cultural anthropology is a branch that identifies existing cultural differences among people using observation and communication. This study is useful in understanding the environment, media, or health, and each topic has a specific sub-field and characteristics. Many people underestimate the impact of culture on human lives, and this paper shares an example of its strength.
Cultural anthropology introduces a great opportunity to learn some cultural aspects of society, and its sub-field, medical anthropology, helps to connect cultural differences with illnesses and available treatments. India is a developing country with several perspectives in science, management, and business. At the same time, this country is characterized by one of the oldest cultures, where such religions as Hinduism or Buddhism were born. A variety of healing customs, treatment traditions, and beliefs weaken the Indian healthcare system and make it difficult to predict and control the growth of infectious diseases. During the last several decades, more than 30 infections have officially appeared, and people are still unable to find out the necessary cure and choose an alternative treatment (Mukherjee 459). In India, people are challenged not by the recently emerged infections but by the already known diseases like tuberculosis or diarrhea. There are many helpful vaccines and treatment plans to predict infection-related complications. However, India faces unpredictable problems in controlling these diseases, and its culture may be one of the reasons for this inability.
The discussion of infections in India and their poor control and treatment may be developed in a variety of ways, and the choice of anthropological framework is a crucial step. In medical anthropology, ethnographic fieldwork is used to define the social roots of diseases and well-being (Witeska-Młynarczyk 385). Anthropologists rely on general social theory, as well as medicine, psychology, and demography (Witeska-Młynarczyk 385). In the Indian scenario, infections have zoonotic roots (transmitted from animals to humans) or are caused by viruses (Mukherjee 461). For example, Dengue viruses challenged the citizens of India due to such social factors as rapid urbanization and poor water management, which resulted in 545 deaths in 1996 and 86 deaths in 2014 (Mukherjee 462). These numbers prove certain improvements in the field and the role of government and healthcare control. To study this connection, Singer offered Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) as a framework that “merges political-economic approaches with culturally sensitive analysis of human behavior grounded in anthropological methods” (as cited in Witeska-Młynarczyk 385). In this approach, the disease is recognized as a biological and social problem.
The analysis of anthropological concepts cannot be ignored because they guide scientists and researchers in their intentions to understand the nature of a disease. There are seven CMA concepts, “health, disease, syndemics, sufferer’s experience, medicalization, medical hegemony and medical pluralism” in the paradigm (Singer, as cited in Witeska-Młynarczyk 386). Along with common anthropological concepts of culture, cultural diversity, and cultural change, they help to investigate the nature of infectious diseases in India. For example, culture includes norms, natural behaviors, and moralities of the country, and the sufferer’s experience implies the way people must live through sickness and rely on political and economic forces (Witeska-Młynarczyk387). The quality of life in India and access to natural resources and public services promote the growth of infections. Not all people can visit a hospital and ask for help in time. The lack of hygiene and inappropriate health education and training prevent Indians from controlling infections.
Cultural diversity is another factor that shows how something is used differently compared to its usages around the world. Medical pluralism is a distinctive feature of India, where diverse healing traditions like Ayurveda or Unani are present (Witeska-Młynarczyk 388). Instead of following globally approved guidelines and immunization practices, India continues implementing its unique methods and fails to educate the population about new approaches and methods. Anthropologists must study and reflect on human changes. Cultural change in India is promoted by rapid industrialization and urbanization (Indian Council of Medical Research et al. 48). As a part of medical pluralism, lifestyle changes, new diets, and activity levels have to be recognized as an attempt of Indians to cope with infection-related diseases. All these concepts and approaches help to identify critical transnational aspects and the Indian sense of health and sickness. Developmental steps were taken by the citizens of the country to change a traditional style of life, but culture remains a strong influence factor that restrains Indian health care and medicine.
Regarding the benefits of cultural and medical anthropology, one should remember that the chosen framework and evaluations are not available to ordinary people. It is the responsibility of an anthropologist to discover the necessary facts, identify the quality of relationships, and determine behavioral norms and standards. According to Scrimshaw, “anthropologists would refer to the iterative process in belief formation as lived experience, where we change based on our experiences rather than remaining static in our beliefs and behaviors” (7651). At the same time, culture is a concept that should not be changed. Therefore, the combination of the terms “cultural” and “anthropology” seems to be rather contradictory, and the social responsibility of anthropologists is to explain existing ethical dilemmas by resolving conflicts and removing misunderstandings.
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In the context of infectious diseases in India, it is expected that an anthropologist encourages collaboration with local healthcare workers, scientists, and social researchers to improve public knowledge. First, the evaluation of Indian culture and recent cultural changes is required to clarify people’s behaviors, intentions, and abilities. The second task is to discover the causes of infections’ growth in the country. Next, it is necessary to determine the ways in how culture may influence human health and the control of infections among Indians. Finally, there is always a list of questions for medical anthropologists to answer, including the role of doctors, shamans, or other health practitioners, access to diagnostic techniques, or the connection between health and emotions.
India is a developing country that is characterized by multiple perspectives and improvements. Despite its evident progress in science or management, infection control is one of the challenges in its healthcare system. To understand the reasons for such a failure to educate people and explain the basics of infection prevention, an anthropological framework, CMA, was recommended. Cultural anthropology is a wide field where several studies emerge, and medical anthropology is one of them. The Indian culture is unique because of its long history and variety. However, if cultural pluralism may be defined as an advantage for people to stay independent and equal, medical pluralism challenges the population. It is important to combine background knowledge, recent achievements, and cultural preferences and understand how to stop infection-related problems in society.
Indian Council of Medical Research, et al. India: Health of the Nation’s States – The India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative. 2017, Web.
Mukherjee, Shuvankar. “Emerging Infectious Diseases: Epidemiological Perspective.” Indian Journal of Dermatology, vol. 62, no. 5, 2017, pp. 459-467.
Scrimshaw, Susan C. “Science, Health, and Cultural Literacy in a Rapidly Changing Communications Landscape.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 116, no. 16, 2019, pp. 7650-7655.
Stellmach, Darryl, et al. “Anthropology in Public Health Emergencies: What Is Anthropology Good for?” BMJ Global Health, vol. 3, no. 2, 2018, Web.
Witeska-Młynarczyk, Anna. “Critical Medical Anthropology – A Voice for Just and Equitable Healthcare.” Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine, vol. 22, no. 2, 2015, pp. 385-389.