Culture Health & Illness Theme Five



Epidemiology = study of disease & what are its causal factors, the measurements & modes of transmission

  • Patterns of disease

  • Aim: Determine risk factors

  • Ultimately aimed to change & modify the risk factors

  • Testing: testing of procedures

  • Testing is quantitative= look for statistical data, measurable data

Anthropology= holistic study of human beings, look at people as a totally package

  • Shared values, beliefs, customs, traditions & ideas

  • Medical Anthropology uses this as its basis for the study of disease

  • Uses a qualitative approach, takes people's cultural belief system into account when explaining illness Methodology

  • Looking at how these two disciplines go about acquiring information/data

  • Western perspective is strictly scientific in nature, it involves factual measurable information

  • While Medical Anthropology perspective is biopsychosocial in nature, look at culture, history & ecology (nature/nurture)= things that can not be measured or tested

  • Epidemiology is quantitative in nature= look for statistical data, measurable data

  • Anthropology is qualitative in nature= viewed holistically

Problems for Anthropologist

  • Try to understand the inner world of people/communities/cultures in terms of disease

  • Look at values, perceptions, beliefs (history, ecology, culture)

  • Called the Emic approach= insiders perspective (find out what the people views are)

  • Here we try to understand this from an Etic perspective (outsiders view on the community)

  • Hence interaction in important to get the Emic perspective of the community

  • Need to look at the Context (biopsychosocial)

Problems for Epidemiologist

  • Look for the cause of the disease e.g Smoking causes cancer, unprotected sex leads to hiv & sexually transmitted diseases

  • once this is obtained it will apply universally

  • Sources of information

  • For Anthropologist= the field is most important

  • Participant Observation, Interviews & Oral History

  • Most Interviews are semi structured & open ended

  • Anthropologist don't like to deal with yes/no answers= what to know details of why, when, & who

  • Hence open-ended question are used to find out information

  • For Epidemiologist= they mostly deal with yes/no questions

  • They want to look at numbers, information that are measurable

  • Use surveys & questionnaires

  • Want to make universal statements based on numbers

Analysis of Information

  • For Anthropologist they deal with explaining information

  • They look at the meanings attached

  • Look for commonalities of thinking, behaviour & interpretation

  • For Epidemiologist they at numbers in terms of numbers

  • Look at risk factors= high risk, low risk & medium risk

  • Look at what cause what e.g survey of 100 people & 80 of them smoke & further 20 got cancer, hence they will associate smoking with cancer

  • Not look at the cultural belief behind the problem

Combining Anthropology & Epidemiology


  • Anthropologist say that Epidemiologist ignore the context

  • As it is the context that shapes a person's behaviour

  • That determines the risk factor, which leads to the spread of the disease

  • Epidemiologist on the other hand wants to look at facts in terms of figures (cause & effect) e.g look at HIV,

  • Anthropology want to under the context of the disease were as Epidemiologist want to just find out how many people are infected and how to treat them

Barriers to Collaboration

  • Biomedical don't take context into account

  • They want to measure things that can be seen (context cant be seen)

  • Anthropological studies take too long (cant afford keep anthropology for long periods)

  • They need a quick fix solution i.e mass in vaccination by doctors to help 3rd world countries prevent diseases

  • Also how can they trust people's values & beliefs


  • But that was a way to bridge the gap between biomedical & social scientist K.A.P Studies ( Knowledge, Attitudes & Practice Studies)

  • Small scale qualitative studies & rapid assessment aimed at generating knowledge around a certain health problem

  • Attempted to do social science studies in a shorter period (2 months)

  • By using questionnaires & surveys as well as interviews = taking people's cultural beliefs into consideration

Case Study

The Pholela Project

  • An Historic study

  • 1940's famous project in Epidemiology don't in KZN

  • Was a collaborative study done by doctors & social scientists

  • Sydney & Emilia Kark- medical doctors that had an anthropological background

  • Decided to use their Anthropological skills/training to help medicine in Pholela

  • They hired other anthropologists to help

  • They also hired field works (which were trained)

  • Go out & interview people from the community

  • On social/cultural behaviour & health needs

  • Do a disease profile (looking at belief systems, ecology & history of the community)

  • This info was important for building of a clinic in the area

  • Once info was gathered, the clinic was set up to cater for the needs of that particular community

  • Many people from overseas came to do the internship at this clinic, it became well known

  • In 1944 a report was putout called the Glukman Report

  • This report document the collaboration between Epidemiologists & Anthropologists, in setting up this clinic

  • As a result 40 clinics were built in rural areas using the same methods

  • It was recommended that the methods used for the Pholela Project be used else were


  • Their were political issues surrounding this

  • 1948- government said no money= close down the clinics or size down

  • After 1948- creation of apartheid

  • Everything became separated/divided according to racial classification therefore the clinics closed down late 1050's the Kark's moved to the U.S

  • They attempted to use the same methods in the U.S

  • They opened the first dept of Epidemiology with Anthropologist At the University of ()

  • They made the University famous, and when people talk about medical anthropology they refer to the University of ()

  • As a result of the Kark's collaboration work

Contact Webmaster | View the Promotion of Access to Information Act | View our Privacy Policy
© University of KwaZulu-Natal: All Rights Reserved