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Culture and Health

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Culture determines people’s perception towards their general health, illnesses and their pursuit of treatment. Indeed, it plays a significant role in explaining the causes of illness among people of different cultures. It goes without saying that different cultures have varying explanations for the cause of illness. While western countries like the United States believe that illness results from derangement of the body’s normal physiology, most cultures in the third world countries hold that illness results from supernatural phenomena. In this regard, such beliefs also affect the pursuit of treatment. It is known that representatives of the western culture believe in scientific approach to the medical problems solution, as the problems are believed to be scientific ones. On the other hand, people of the third world cultures believe in seeking spiritual intervention or prayer during the illness. This implies that the entire process of illness is affected by people’s culture. Response to an illness starts from the acceptance of the illness and adapting the sick role. Thus, the perception of the degree of sickness will affect the amount of social responsibilities that people of a particular culture can exempt themselves from. In the third world countries, there is no measure of the degree of sickness and one could indulge in economic activities even when the rest could be therapeutic. This will certainly not happen in the western culture, because people seek doctors’ advice whenever they feel ill. In this regard, the doctor is able to advise them on the things that have to be avoided until patients get well. It goes without saying that cultural beliefs can drive one to exacerbate medical conditions. For instance, a patient struck with angina will become worse if he or she engages in the strenuous activities. This is why culture plays a great role in the process of illness treatment and the acceptance of the role of a sick person.

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There are certain unique cultures that significantly affect the patients’ relationship with the doctor. This means that doctors and nurses should strive to understand these cultures so that they offer the best care to their patients. For instance, among the Pacific Islanders, the extended family must be engaged in every step of seeking medical attention. As a matter of fact, all decisions regarding the pursuit of healthcare can only be made by the eldest male member of the extended family. This does not only delay treatments, but also disregards the principle of self-determination that is the core to the healthcare. In essence, this culture believes that individual dignity and honor should come after the honor of the entire family. This is why a decision to seek medical attention is exclusively left for elderly male members of the society. Among Asians, members of the society give a great value to the desire to maintain social harmony. Thus, patients from Asian culture are the least likely to disagree with their doctors even if they feel something is not right. It could turn chaotic if the patient does not understand the frequency of medication and does not ask for further explanation. According to literature, Chinese culture holds that individual behavior reflects on the entire family. Thus, patients may be reluctant to report certain medical conditions, because they do not want to paint a negative picture of the family. A typical example is that of mental illness. While the patient may be seriously sick and unable to seek medical attention without assistance, the family members would certainly avoid taking the patient to the hospital in order to preserve the name of the family. This would eventually have very negative impact on the patient, because the condition could become worse with time.

There are certain cultures where marriage is based on the social, as well as mental well-being of the members of that family. This implies that people would generally be reluctant to accept diagnosis of diseases because of the fear of social repercussions. In particular, diseases like mental retardation or emotional illness would significantly reduce the chances of members of a particular family to get marital partners. The society basically believes that these diseases follow family lines and are most likely to be inherited by the off-springs. Thus, suitors who do not wish to bear children with mental problems would avoid marrying with the members of certain families even if their partners are not directly affected. In Vietnam, the culture is against any acceptance of counseling as a form of intervention to mental health. They basically wish to avoid anything that will impel them to disclose personal secrets. In this regard, it will be very difficult for health professionals to deal with such patients. The doctor has to establish a personal relation with the patient, if counseling is to succeed. It should be noted that counseling is the best therapy for most mental illnesses. This shows the extent to which culture can affect health.

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It is worth noting that Russian immigrants usually distrust the medical care in the United States. This is because they have had bad experience with most American doctors in the past. In most cases, American medical practitioners appeared extremely hostile towards Russians, thereby hindering the flow of information between the two groups of people. This prevents many of Russians to shy away from seeking medical care because of the fear of intimidation by the doctors. It is basically a kind of phobia towards healthcare that has developed over time and become integrated into their culture. In this regard, their pursuit of healthcare is seriously compromised. Moreover, Russian immigrants would not question doctors for anything, because they consider it to be uncommon. This significantly undermines the patients’ ability to learn and understand their medical condition. It could become dangerous if the patient does not understand certain bit of the doctor’s instructions and is afraid to ask. This will mean that the patient will suffer in silence for a very long time. According to medical principles, the patient should be told about the nature of medical attention that he or she is supposed to get. However, this is the only possible way for both parties not to feel intimidated by the other one.

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