By Catherine Sanders, Research Associate, The ISIS Foundation
ISIS research associate Catherine Sanders probes the nitty gritty of human behaviour to tackle global health problems
At ISIS, we try to root our programs and interventions in tried-and-tested theories about human behaviour so we can build on the work of other anthropologists in the field of global health. We learn from past mistakes and successes, contribute to solutions to global development inequalities and add our development experiences, both positive and negative, to a growing body of wisdom about global health. One of the largest forums for knowledge sharing is the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, which I attended recently in Chicago.
The conference attracted practitioners of applied medical anthropology, a sub-field of anthropology that applies knowledge of human behaviour to global health problems. The theme ‘future publics’ emphasised the ability of anthropology to address real social problems, such as the needless suffering brought about by preventable illnesses such as malaria, gastrointestinal problems, pregnancy complications and lower respiratory infections — all common to ISIS projects in Uganda and Nepal. My own talk on the social challenges of accessing antenatal and pregnancy services in Uganda was well received, and I was able to discuss with other global health specialists these and other current issues facing our field.
One of anthropology’s greatest contributions to global health is to reveal the diversity of human responses to global dynamics, sometimes referred to as the “isations”: globalisation, neoliberalisation, urbanisation, biomedicalisation and deforestation, among others. Clearly, all people do not respond to similar stresses in similar ways, nor do those stresses take identical forms. Anthropologists help answer the question, “global health for whom and under what conditions?”
However, we sometimes struggle to get our message out to the world. My time at ISIS has challenged me to speak out about the importance of knowledge sharing, to talk about theory and practice in meaningful terms, and to find ways of reaching out to communities at home and abroad to explain this important work. In line with this, my next topic will discuss the wide variety of influences on wellbeing in our project sites. A teaser: It’s not your grandma’s socioeconomic status!