The relevance of Margaret Mead's concepts in health and illness to the era of COVID-19

Author: Morad, Tagrid
Source document: Theory and Practice in English Studies. 2020, vol. 9, iss. 1-2, pp. [109]-121
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The contribution of the medical anthropologist to the study of COVID-19 is significant, especially when treating the pandemic as a syndemic. Merrill Singer, an American medical anthropologist, and his colleagues claimed that a "syndemic approach reveals biological and social interactions that are important for prognosis, treatment, and health policy." Gilbert Lewis described the medical anthropologist role as a mediator between the individual (from a particular culture, that has its own special patterns that affects his or her illness behavior), and the physician. Illness behavior is not just a medical term, it's a social construct that is determined and shaped by cultural, social, economic, occupational and medical factors. Anthropology, ethnography and literature would crystallize health and illness behavior to the extent that medicine could not do alone. The goal of this paper is to highlight Margaret Mead's insights on health and illness and its relevance to the current pandemic, discuss Mead’s contribution to illness behavior, and show how her legacy helps us to understand the impact of the disease. Practical aspects of Mead's contribution were found in her writings, such as in her autobiography Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years, and in other works that discuss her research within the framework of COVID-19. Emphasis is put on the importance of documentary literature written by medical anthropologists to the scientific debate. The role of writers (inc. medical writers), anthropologists and other professionals is of vehement importance to contain the ongoing global epidemic.
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