This morning we had our seminar in The Hub (where we have our Rutgers Medical Anthropology classes) on the book Medical Choice in a Mexican Village. We were first introduced to current issues in Mexico, from politics to medical treatment options. We determined that medical anthropology is how people in different cultures explain the causes of illness, choose among treatments for illness, and seek help when they are ill. The book discussed exactly that; Medical Choice in Mexican Village examined the different options villagers in Mexico had when someone fell ill. The options are often limited because of their lack of money, transportation, and access to proper treatments, which often leaves them to home remedies and folk curers. Even when they do have access to modern medical treatments, whether they improve depends on their faith in the doctor/treatment and their ability/willingness to comply.
I think our medical choices in America are taken for granted, especially since we have grown so accustomed to modern medicine. Typically, when one is sick in America, they will treat themselves with a combination of modern medicine and home remedies, ie: prescription medication and tea. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have health insurance don't really think about what to do when we get sick; we can just visit our doctors, get the medication we need, and get better quickly. Even those who don't have health insurance will manage to get seen by a professional if they resort to going to a hospital, and will be treated with the proper medication required to treat them. A doctor or a hospital is never too far away, so we can usually be treated when necessary. Those living in rural Mexico, however, don't think about when they will see a doctor, but whether if they ever will. If you don't even have the means to get to a hospital or a doctor, you have to resort to whatever is available to you, usually curanderas, or folk healers, in this case. This type of traditional medicine is seen as a supplement to modern medicine in America, not as a form of common, mainstream medicine. Often, the medical world will look down upon folk/herbal medicine and discourage people from using it. In Mexico, it is seen as a primary option for many. I imagine that it's hard to not put faith in folk medicine in these poor, rural areas when you've been born into it; your family and whole village relies on it and there often is no other choice. While it is good for people to practice their own form of medicine, it should not be their only choice.
I was surprised by how little I knew about medical choices in Mexico. While studying public health, we are supposed to consider the habits of people that might make them sick or prevent them from recovering. Although I think herbal/natural medicine can be beneficial and a good supplement to modern medicine, folk medicine often relies on some sort of divine intervention and practices that are not effective enough to cure serious illnesses. If people decide to use folk medicine in addition to modern treatment, that is their decision, but they should be granted the option of receiving proper medical care by professionals. I found our discussion in seminar extremely thought-provoking and eye-opening, which is exactly the intention of this program. We need to expand our definition of medicine as we know it, and learn about how cultures around the world react to illnesses.