social determinants of health

How self-produced medicines have increased tribal agency and reduced health disparities in Thailand

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.

social determinants of health

The public health crisis on the Thailand-Myanmar border: Struggles of the Karen tribal peoples

“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.

social determinants of health

Having conversations about health: Public health disparities on the Pine Ridge Native reservation

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.

social determinants of health

Culture’s effect on well-being: Examining connections between industrialism, mental health, and culture-bound syndromes

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.

social determinants of health

Why I’m passionate about medical anthropology and public health: Sharing my story of vision care (pt. 1)

In 3rd grade, my math class was playing Around the World—a game where whoever solves a multiplication problem the fastest can go “around” the classroom—to help us memorize our times tables. Every time it was my turn, I stood up, but I was never able to answer.  What numbers is everyone looking at? Why can’t I see them? I thought.…

Continue Reading

social determinants of health

The silent killers of society: How health illiteracy and cultural stigmas affect thousands of rural communities worldwide

In the U.S., we teach our kids from an early age to make healthy choices in life—I recall how many of my elementary school days were spent learning about “go/slow/whoa” foods, the “fuel up to play 60” campaign, and the healthy-eating pyramid. As much as I may have disliked their dull repetitiveness at the time, these catchy slogans had made…

Continue Reading

social determinants of health

How the most primal of human necessities affect public health today: A global understanding of malnutrition and food insecurity

Food, water, and shelter—the three necessities of our ancestors, dating from tens of millennia ago, are still ever-important to our survival. In modern-day society, food has become an essential aspect of the cultural landscape of cities; as a result, what food one has access to is dependent on their geographical location, income, and status. Unfortunately, nutrition in marginalized communities is…

Continue Reading

social determinants of health

Education in the K-12 system: A social determinant of health that extends beyond the child’s classroom

Author’s note: This is the second post of the social determinants of health series, in which I discuss international public health disparities and societal factors contributing to public health. In these posts, I’ll delve into my journey into the field of public health, specifically focusing on eye care/visual impairments in underprivileged communities, while describing my experiences along the way. The…

Continue Reading

anthropology, public health, social determinants of health

Moving beyond medicine: Using the social determinants of health to address public health disparities

Author’s note: This is the first post in a series in which I’ll write about international public health disparities and societal factors contributing to public health. In these posts, I’ll delve into my journey into the field of public health, specifically focusing on eye care/visual impairments in underprivileged communities, while describing my experiences along the way. Although the traditional approach…

Continue Reading