Medical treatment across cultures and knowledge systems

#contributions #cross-cultural management #cross-cultural medicine #global health Nov 08, 2020
Medical systems across cultures

I am a medical doctor trained in Bogotá, Colombia. During my studies, I never received any classes on herbalism or "alternative medicine". After graduation I got a job that allowed me to travel around Colombia. In places across the country we discussed different types of treatments (including "alternative medicine" local people used). No one ever questioned the medications I administered.

One day I accompanied a group of school children from Bogotá on a trip to the Amazon. We stayed with different groups of indigenous people (Arawak, Tikuna and Huitoto). When some of the students started to have symptoms of gastroenteritis I prepared rehydration salts for them. The doctor from the Arawak community however wanted to treat them with plants and juice from a specific tree. Since I was responsible for the children, I feared their illness might get worse from local remedies so I persisted to use the rehydration salts. The Arawak doctor was convinced that imbalance in a natural body should be treated with natural medicine.

I realized that my viewpoints on well-being and disease were intrinsically related to the way I was educated. I did not trust alternative treatments, even though they may have been valuable. The notion of medicine we are educated with shapes our medical decisions. Different cultures have their own concepts and methods. This situation made me realize that in every option we give to a patient, in every treatment we offer, our views are embedded.

Text and image: Valentina Mazzanti, Medical doctor specializing in global health