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SMA President Carolyn Sargent “Speaking to the National Health Crisis”

maq coverIn the latest issue of Medical Anthropology Quarterly, SMA President Carolyn Sargent calls on the anthropological community to engage with the national health care crisis and “shape public discourses and policy in ways we have rarely done before.”

Sargent laments that, with a few exceptions, anthropologists have “not offered a coherent and emphatic voice in the debate about transforming the U.S. health care system, especially the core issue of universal health insurance.”

Frustrated by a lack of public awareness for the pervasiveness of the problem and inspired by her own fieldwork in Texas (the state with the highest rate of uninsured), Sargent calls on her colleagues to document the impact of illness on individuals and families, especially by recording narratives of the employed middle class, as “the public imagination has not absorbed the reality that three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance.”

Echoing these frustrations, Mark Nichter created “SMA Takes a Stand”, an initiative which prompts anthropologists to reach beyond scholarly research, and into national policy debates that have up until now been dominated by other fields like economics and sociology.

In order to energize “SMA Takes a Stand”, Sargent proposes to form a  working group of SMA board representatives, special interest groups, and others whose research aims might align with the initiative.

Read Sargent’s full commentary on Anthrosource (for AAA members), or Wiley-Interscience (for non-AAA members), and as always, please feel free to leave your comments below!

3 Responses

  1. I concur with Sargent’s call for anthropologists to have a voice in this debate. So why isn’t this call published in a place where people who are not academics can readily access it?

  2. Sheila,

    Thank you for your comment.

    This article has now been ungated, and can be accessed by all at the address below, through the end of September: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122531944/PDFSTART

  3. In 2008 the journal Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness announced the addition of op-ed contributions in each issue from experts and world-renowned scholars who recognize and explain the issues in health, illness, and medicine that matter in your life and the lives of others.

    The op-ed contributions in each issue of Medical Anthropology provide opinion and commentary, critical insight and thoughtful analyses of health problems and medicine that highlight the social conditions and cultural frameworks central to health beliefs and medical behavior of individuals, of families, and of societies.

    The first in this series, written by Dr. Hans A. Baer (University of Melbourne), examined the impact of global warming on health and human societies (27:1). Dr. João Biehl (Princeton University) followed with a discussion of the relations between pharmaceutical commerce and public health care with respect to global AIDS treatment initiatives (27:2). In the current issue (27:3), Heather Battles (McMaster University), and one of our own Associate Editors, Dr. Lenore Manderson (Monash University), comment on the “Ashley Treatment” and its implications in regards to the public debate on the care of children with profound and multiple disabilities. In the final issue of 2008 (27:4), Dr. Vincanne Adams (UC-San Francisco) and colleagues outlined the need for “Global Health Diplomacy” which attends to the “dual goals” of improving global health and bettering international relations, with special concern for “conflict areas” and “resource-poor environments.”
    Dr. Sarah Pinto (Tufts) kicked off 2009 (28:1) with commentary on the “challenges” that an ethical language of abandonment used in psychiatric hospitals in India poses for families.

    In the current isse (28:3) a plague of medical anthropologists wade into the timely issue of the H1N1 flu. Three op-eds deal the the flu pandemic from various angles. Dr. Mark Nichter (Arizona) and Dr. Charles Briggs (UC-Berekely) comment upon the flu and the discourse about biosecurity and global health citizenship that surrounds it that leads to the opinion that medical anthropology is absolutely crucial for a better informed public able to determine the factors and actors involved in shaping knolwedge production used in ‘fighting’ pandemics. Dr. Merrill Singer (Connecticut) raises important questions concerning the capacity of medical anthropology to respond usefully to such disease outbreaks and their health and social consequences. Finally, Dr. Laëtitia Atlani-Duault (Nanterre Paris X University) and Dr. Carl Kendall (Tulane) consider the under-discussed social effects of a truly massive global catastrophe that include the issues of communication, responding to predictable inappropriate reactions, preparation of populations for these effects, or using local population resources in the epidemic.

    Stay tuned to each and every issue of Medical Anthropology – a truly international forum for medical anthropology – for more exciting, timely, and crucial insights in the social and cultural conditions at home and worldwide that impact health and medicine.

    Steve Ferzacca (Lethbridge)
    Editor, Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness

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