Can we understand global health?
March 12, 2010
I have bee n reading and enjoying Alanna Shaikh’s blog Blood and Milk lately, and and today she has another pithy post up on Why you can’t understand global health. I agree with her basic premise completely – even with years of nursing, overseas volunteer work and postgraduate study in development I still have no idea of how it is to live in the zero-sum game that is the life of the very poor.
But it got me to thinking about how we can start to learn about it. I don’t know that experience, but my husband does. He was born into a poor family in a small, third-world town. I learn from his experience. I refer to his expertise often in my work and writing. And he is not alone. The world is now so interconnected. While there are still many living in poverty there are also the lucky ones who escaped. How can we utilise their experience and expertise?
It also reinforces my belief in the value of the academic work of social scientists, particularly anthropologists. Too often in health care and development we prioritise technical knowledge and skills. Long term and in depth ethnographic study of communities and their lifestyles, culture and values could add so much to the design of appropriate and effective interventions. Yet it is rarely done… it doesn’t fit well in the project life-cycle.
So often the voice of the poor themselves is missing from health and development literature. But itw ill take time to stop and listen, and a change of mind-set to value the knowledge they have.