Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Medical Anthropology in the Spotlight

Medical Anthropology is a rapidly growing field, with more and more programs popping up at Universities around the country (Arizona State's SHESC has just proposed a new Ph.D. program in Social Science and Health). It is becoming clear that culture, health, and health care are highly interconnected in both developing and industrialized countries, and it is exciting to see it receiving attention outside of the field of Anthropology.

That's why I think the most recent issue of the journal PLoS Medicine is such a treat! The theme of this issue is "Social Medicine in the 21st Century," and it features research articles and essays which examine the importance of considering the cultural and social effects on health and health care.

The Research Articles are going to keep me busy for a long time. I'm particularly interested in one piece which examines the impact to Tuberculosis care in the aftermath of armed conflict , and I also can't wait to read the article which looks at the connections between health and socioeconomic status in India.

There is an incisive opinion essay by Arthur Kleinman and Peter Benson which emphasizes the need for medical providers to have "cultural competency." Here's the opening paragraph:

It is clear that culture does matter in the clinic. Cultural factors are crucial to diagnosis, treatment, and care. They shape health-related beliefs, behaviors, and values. But the large claims about the value of cultural competence for the art of professional care-giving around the world are simply not supported by robust evaluation research showing that systematic attention to culture really improves clinical services. This lack of evidence is a failure of outcome research to take culture seriously enough to routinely assess the cost-effectiveness of culturally informed therapeutic practices, not a lack of effort to introduce culturally informed strategies into clinical settings.

The authors go on to outline their recomendations for a systematic approach to including cultural knowledge and context into everyday medical practice.

Kepe in mind that you can read all of the articles in PLoS Medicine in their entirety, as it is an online, open-access journal. Check it out.

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