In early January, I traveled from the suburbs of Austin to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) as a student researcher to test an app that would expand the outreach of healthcare. Despite being in the same state, the RGV’s distinctive culture seemed a world away. I journaled my observations and interactions in the town, and when I returned home, I learned more about trends I noticed through online research and interviews. In this mini-ethnography, I’ve published my recollections and findings on the social determinants of public health on the Texas-Mexico border region.
Eleven months: after the first SARS-CoV-2 case in December 2019, pharmaceutical research and development produced an effective vaccine in November 2020. The speed of this timeline is unmatched in human history, as typically, vaccines take more than a decade to develop. Yet, science is only the first link of the public health chain. The next steps, comprising equitable distribution and accessibility, are equally important. Unfortunately, data from 23 states show that there are racial disparities in vaccine distributions. While antibodies protect cells biologically, effective policies protect people socially; vaccination equity needs to be at the forefront of public health efforts.
Modern healthcare is fraught with inequality. The U.S. private system suffers from exorbitant treatment costs, turns a blind eye to chronic conditions, and reflects disparities by ethnicity and socioeconomic status—all of which remain significant barriers to public health. On a global stage, similar patterns are evident: pharmaceutical companies are hesitant to expand into developing countries where they may not profit. However, to combat these disparities, some communities have found agency by producing their own medicine in a sustainable way. In this post, we’ll explore how the Karen (/kəˈrɛn/) tribes of Thailand have found a solution to an issue plaguing the world.
“Anada (name changed) was abandoned in the toilet pan at birth. Neighbors discovered her some hours later, and we took her to the hospital. The high level of infection caused cataracts and cornea scarring, leaving her blind.”
Having grown up in the confines of American suburbia, I was shocked when I heard this story.
I was in conversation with Catherine Ruth-Riley discussing the public health situation on the Thailand-Myanmar border. Having founded a school for orphans, Catherine has worked in the border region for over two decades, driven by her mission of helping the Karen (/kəˈrɛn/) people, who exist at the margins of society on the border between Myanmar and Thailand. Catherine’s candid depictions of adversity and courage painted a portrait of the Karen people marked by not only their struggles, but also, hope for a path to improvement.
The settler colonial logic of elimination lives on in America. Due to systemic disparities in water, housing, food, and wealth, Indigenous communities are experiencing the COVID-19 crisis worse than the rest of the country.
Indigenous communities have suffered for centuries at the hands of colonialism, and their isolation on reservations has affected their health and well-being in a myriad of ways. In this post, I’ll discuss the public health situation at one reservation in particular: Pine Ridge.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Paula Sibal, a staff member at Re-Member who is passionate about bringing public awareness to issues faced by Indigenous communities. As I learned, many public health disparities are either ignored or worsened by the federal government—a logic of strategic elimination that is part-and-parcel of settler colonialism, very much alive today. In writing this post, I recognize that merely shedding light on this issue is not enough; tangible actions must follow. By sharing an account of a few of the injustices experienced by Pine Ridge, I hope to encourage readers, in whatever ways they can, to remedy this.
Today’s movement advancing racial justice and social equality has led many to ponder America’s colonial history as well. Tangible artifacts of settler colonialism present themselves all around us, from the lands upon which our cities were built to the museums that display relics of tribal communities. Yet, other artifacts operate on a more sinister, subconscious level. Columbus Day, a prime example of such ingrained beliefs, reflects how our society’s everyday culture can continue a legacy of oppression.
Although scientific medicine is often associated with objectiveness, systems of belief also affect well-being, with equal, if not greater, impact. For instance, global differences in the occurrence of mental health conditions reveal that societal differences are in part responsible for differences in citizens’ mental health. Furthermore, in a world of globalization, cultural diffusion has affected societal standards in even the most remote regions, thus affecting local communities’ perceptions of health and wellness. In this post, we’ll investigate how cultural standards have impacted societal well-being in a global context.
Throughout Homo sapiens’ rich history, our species has evolved to become deeply social animals. For instance, the first hunter-gatherers lived in bands, allowing their members to depend on each other for food and resources. Similarly, our most basic unit of community—the family—reflects our ability to develop deep relationships that often last us a lifetime. The unique social aspect of the human species has become so intrinsic to us that it’s even embedded in our biology; for example, during a child’s developmental years, their brains process social cues (e.g. facial expressions, reactions, and speech) to create complex neural circuits governing how they interact with others for the rest of their lives.
However, over the past few months, COVID-19 has greatly limited our ability to have social interactions. As experts believe this pandemic will last several years, mask-wearing will become a common ritual in our day-to-day lives, making most of the faces we see partially hidden. In addition, our in-person interactions will drastically decrease as we move to technology platforms. Could this affect the way our children interact with and treat each other?
In the last few weeks, we have seen a tremendous increase in awareness about racial inequality in America. Fortunately, progress is occurring at an accelerating pace thanks to the tireless efforts of protesters and activists. Because of our country’s history, protesting is deeply symbolic of our core American identity, as it represents our defiance towards injustice and wrongdoing. Now more than ever, it’s our duty to exercise our rights to speech by protesting for equality. However, due to the unfortunate intersection of this movement with the spread of the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement is being impacted in many ways.