Approaches to Human Illness from a Biomedical Anthropology Perspective

Interest in health issues has characterized human reflection and endeavor since early civilization. Thoughts of ill health likely characterized the life of prehistoric man as he went about his daily chores of hunting and gathering. The search for means to stop the functional losses allied to ill health continues today.

It is with this understanding that Nguyen & Peschard (2003) composed their article on the correlation between high rates of socioeconomic inequality and worsened health outcomes. In the article Anthropology, Inequality and Disease: A Review, the two authors take cognizance of the role played by Anthropological approaches in deepening our knowledge and understanding of the association between socioeconomic inequality and disease. Below is a brief summary of the article.

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According to the article, it is possible to understand how society condition disease patterns by understanding the human body from both historical and social perspectives. Through the two perspectives, one can indeed understand how whole populations are afflicted by disease (Nguyen & Peschard, 2003). From an anthropological perspective, the association between inequality and human illness is viewed as a type of violence endorsed through culture and reason.

This fact is echoed by Stanford, Allen & Anton (2009) who argues that biomedical anthropologists must evaluate the cultural as well as biological aspects when looking at human illness since these two aspects offers very useful insights. To put it in context, health issues must be evaluated from a biocultural perspective. From an anthropological perspective, human illness must therefore be evaluated from social, historical, cultural and biological perspectives.

Nguyen & Peschard (2003) are of the opinion that poverty is the only prime social determinant of human wellbeing. Poor populations are more prone to disease as pathogens spread with ease due to unhealthy living conditions, not mentioning the fact that poor people have inadequate social support networks.

These and other factors lead to a weakened immunity and strained neurophysiological development, ultimately leading to human illness. In short, human illness is occasioned by socio-cultural conditions. This view finds support from Stanford, Allen & Anton (2009) assertion that human behavior influences the expression of illness at both the individual and society echelons.

It is believed that poverty defines human behavior. In a sense, the biocultural view fronted by Stanford and company can be used to explain the article’s main theme of inequality and human illness as it recognize the fact that both our evolutionary and socio-cultural backgrounds influences behavior (Stanford, Allen & Anton, 2009).

According to Nguyen & Peschard (2003), it is prudent for anthropologists to make contributions to the noble duty of helping all stakeholders understand the means through which social inequality is translated into human illness.

It is also the duty of anthropologists to engrave this correlation into a wider historical and socio-cultural outline. Stanford, Allen & Anton (2009) underscore the biocultural approach – entailing both biological and socio-cultural variables – as a means of understanding the complexity of human illness.

They offer the example of anorexia nervosa as an illness that can be better understood only when viewed in the perspective of both biological and cultural variables. In the light of this, the role of biomedical anthropologists in attempting to explain how social inequality is translated into human illness can never be underestimated. In addition, socio-cultural and historical approaches as suggested by Nguyen & Peschard (2003) must also be incorporated

Reference List

Nguyen, V.K., & Peschard, K. (2003). Anthropology, Inequality and Disease: A Review.

Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 32, Issue 1, p. 447-474. Retrieved December 6 2009

Stanford, C., Allen, J.S., & Anton, S.C. (2009). Exploring Biological anthropology: The Essentials, 2nd Ed. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 9780132288576

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