Medical Anthropology

             Traditions, practices, habits and beliefs vary among each culture, as does the environment, and availability of goods and supplies. The definition of illness also varies depending on the culture and what is considered good versus bad health. Due to this diversity in everyday life, and the arbitrary definition of health, an illness is specific to the culture it affects.
             Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ work in Brazil, and her observations of the tendency of the Alto culture to put small value on children until they prove their will to live, is an example of how illness is specific to certain cultures. In this particular case, healthcare is only given out based on the belief in its necessity. In Western culture, Biomedicine is improving everyday to help premature babies, and sickly babies to survive, whereas in this Brazilian culture, there is the belief that babies are replaceable and little effort is shown to aid a sick baby. Scheper-Hughes credits this maternal thinking among the Alto to result in an “average expectable environment of child death” (Scheper-Hughes, 20). The small amount of value that this specific culture places on babies results in an enormous number of infant deaths in comparison to any other culture.
             Although, blame may be placed on the economic, social, and political weakness that surround the Alto, the horrible conditions including no food supply, bacteria-ridden water, and no medical health care, have become the culture of this Northeast Brazilian people. The death rates are specific to the Alto, not solely because of circumstances they cannot control, but because of choices they make based on cultural beliefs. Malnutrition could be due to the poor economy of the country, but instead, it is because of child neglect that comes with the maternal thinking that if a child is born ‘wanting to die’, the mother should not waste food on a baby that will soon pass on (Scheper-Hughes, 370). A child that is ...

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Medical Anthropology. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:23, December 09, 2016, from