London: Scientists have claimed that neglecting culture has been the "single biggest barrier" to achieving good health worldwide.
The study, which was led by Professor David Napier from University College London (UCL), UK, details for the every first time the role of culture in health. The authors argued that cultures of all kinds - not only people's religious or ethnic identity, but also professional and political cultures - have been sidelined and misunderstood by both medical professionals and society as a whole.
Until now, culture has largely been conceived of as an impediment to health, rather than a central determining feature of it. However, the Commission made a powerful case to the contrary, showing that culture not only determined health, but also defined it through different cultural groups' understandings of what it meant to be well.
The systematic neglect and misunderstanding of culture in medicine has led to the development of medical systems where personal contact between patients and caregivers is neglected, said the authors, which together with a proliferation of expensive medical procedures and management cultures has led to unsustainable financial pressures on many countries' health systems.
Condemning the widespread and increasing role of profit making enterprises in health, the Commission questioned whether such enterprises could ever be compatible with a health system that truly had individual and community health and wellbeing at its heart overnments, WHO, and the large health mega-charities need to reconsider their views of the effectiveness of such partnerships, say the authors, advocating them only when and where altruism can be safeguarded from hostile profiteering.
Professor Napier said that if health professionals, researchers, and health managers begin to appreciate the central role of culture in how health was perceived and understood, people would be able to move towards a system in which health was as much about caring as it is about curing.
Moreover, by neglecting the role of culture in health, there was a risk that positive contributions which could result from a better understanding of other cultures may be lost. While some medical research projects have been exploring the potential of traditional remedies in western biomedical models, or how traditional models of caring might be translated to other circumstances, the rapid decline in diversity of cultures across the world meant that further contributions of this sort were in danger of being lost forever.
The study is published in The Lancet.