oa Current Allergy & Clinical Immunology - Health care through a cultural lens' : insights from medical anthropology : review article

Volume 20 Number 2
  • ISSN : 1609-3607



The unique ways in which people understand health and sickness and apply their knowledge and skills to deal with the threat of sickness are core aspects of culture, which is briefly defined as people's shared values and attitudes that shape their behaviour. Within this context, this paper considers several key concepts which have acquired subject-specific meanings that are fundamental to the anthropological perspective of health care. The meaning of health varies across cultures, and mostly entails more than the absence of symptoms of disease since in some cultural contexts it is understood as a balanced relationship between people, nature and the supernatural. 'Sickness' is used generically for individual or group experiences of being unwell, while 'disease', as the objective, demonstrable, physical or emotional changes in the body, is contrasted with 'illness' as a person's experience of a disease. This dichotomy is reflected in the contrast between 'healing' and 'curing', with the former describing the resolution of the subjective experience of illness, and 'curing' the strategies applied to overcome disease. Underlying these concepts is the notion of causation, fundamental to identification of a condition and hence to any health-seeking strategy. The concepts set the scene for medical anthropological understandings of sickness, healing and complexities arising from coexistence between different medical traditions.

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