Anthropology of Health


This unit offers a broad introduction to the Anthropology of Health, focused on interactive learning with significant contributions from students. They are expected to develop critical reading and assessment skills on the epistemology, methodology and practice of the anthropology of health. In order to gain a better understanding of the main tenets of biomedical and non-allopathic medical systems, and medical pluralism students are expected to acquaint themselves with explanatory models of disease and illness as practiced by biomedical health professionals, populations and traditional practitioners in ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ contexts. Hence, students will gain insight into the interactions between the global and the local, and the complex relations between these, and between international agencies and programmes, national institutions and local communities.
Students are expected to absorb the major theoretical and methodological contributions made by Anthropology of Health, while becoming acquainted with realities on the ground by means of case studies e ethnographies associated with topics related to the four principal thematic dimensions (see below). The main focus of case studies will be on sub-Saharan African countries – with reference to Latin American and Asian countries - in line with the IHMT’s mission statement, teaching and research programmes. Students, most of whom are actively involved in medical practice and health systems in their countries of origin, are expected to share their own views and experiences on the topics under discussion. Hence, ample time is allotted for debate in class, building upon the modules and themes, and upon the case studies (based upon articles for mandatory reading) which will be discussed during classes. Students will be asked to present their work in a succinct fashion to test their methodological, analytical and communication skills.
Students are expected to submit a paper and encouraged to choose a topic (in consultation with the course coordinator), preferably related to their Doctorateproject, so as to assist them in broadening their perspective and deepening their understanding and analysis of the qualitative aspects of the subject matter.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Philip Havik


Weekly - Se a UC for oferecida como opcional, o horário será disponibilizado no 2º semestre

Total - 40

Teaching language



Not applicable


• R. J. Prince and R. Marsland (eds), Making and Unmaking Public Health in Africa - Ethnographic and Historical Perspectives (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2014).
• M. Singer and H. Baer, Introducing Medical Anthropology (Lanham: AltaMira, 2012).
• P. Wenzel-Geissler and Catherine Molyneux (eds.) Evidence, Ethos and Experiment: the anthropology of medical research in Africa (New York: Berghahn, 2011).
• H-J. Dilger and U. Luig (eds.) Morality, Hope and Grief: anthropologies of AIDS in Africa (New York: Berghahn, 2010) .
• M. Lock and V-K. Nguyen, An Anthropology of Biomedicine (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
• E. J. Sobo, Culture and Meaning in Health Services Research: a practical field guide (London: Routledge, 2009) .
• P. Erickson, Ethnomedicine (Long Grove: Waveland Press, 2008).
• M. Hammersly e P. Atkinson, Ethnography: Principles in Practice (Routledge, 2007).
• E. Uchôa e J-M. Vidal, Antropologia Médica: elementos conceituais e metodológicos para uma Abordagem da Saúde e da Doença, Cad. Saúd. Pública, 10, 4 (1994): 497-504.
• D. S. Simmons, The role of ethnography in STI and HIV/AIDS education and promotion with traditional healers in Zimbabwe, Health Promotion International, 26, 4 (2011): 476-482.
• L.V. Adams, et al., Barriers to tuberculosis care delivery among miners and their families in South Africa: an ethnographic study, International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, 21,5 (2017): 571-578.
• A. Wilkinson, M. Parker, F. Martineau e M. Leach, Engaging ‘communities’: anthropological insights from the West African Ebola epidemic, Phil. Trans. R. Soc., B 372 (2017): 20160305.
• C.I.R. Chandler, C. Jones, G. Boniface, K. Juma, H. Reyburn e C.J.M. Whitty, Guidelines and mindlines: why do clinical staff over-diagnose malaria in Tanzania? A qualitative study, Malaria Journal, 7, 53 (2008): 53.

Teaching method

The methods employed in this course are the use of Power Point Presentations – and where necessary the viewing of short videos - for direct contact (classes). The course set-up and the PPs for the different modules are made available to students via the MOODLE platform of the IHMT. In addition, the modules are associated with articles for mandatory reading by providing appropriate contextualization. By means of the articles in question, which are debated in class, students are taught to engage in critical reading. Tutorials provide further explanation on certain issues for students, if requested, and assist them in choosing a topic for their papers and with their research. Short presentations by students of their papers, are then discussed in class, with comments from the course coordinator. Students are encouraged to write the papers as articles, in accordance with the format in the natural sciences or that used in the social sciences, in order to promote critical scientific writing.

Evaluation method

The assessment of the students’ performance is based upon the paper submitted (75%) and its presentation in class (25%).

Subject matter

Teaching is structured in accordance with the four thematic dimensions of Anthropology of Health, i.e. Ethnomedicine, Critical Medical Anthropology, Cultural Epidemiology and Clinical Medical Anthropology. Teaching modules address the methodology, epistemology and practice of Anthropology of Health, in the broadest sense, by focusing on scientific contributions and debates in the sub-discipline in both a thematic and diachronic fashion in order to facilitate the understanding the evolution of the scientific field over time.
The curricular programme addresses the social and cultural aspects of disease and illness, perceptions and experiences regarding disease, illness, suffering, care and everyday life as a dynamic process, as well as the perceptions and experiences of biomedical health professionals and traditional practitioners, the diagnostics and treatments they prescribe, and their interactions with patients while taking into account their respective socio-cultural backgrounds. The question of health equity, -disparity, -literacy and health seeking behavior, socio-cultural determinants of health, medical pluralism and health citizenship are also addressed. Further attention is also given to historical, social, political and economic forces shaping patterns of disease, morbidity and mortality across societies, with an emphasis on low income contexts, and most particularly the African continent.
Special attention is given to the impact of major international disease control and eradication campaigns (e.g. against malaria, smallpox, polio, tuberculosis, STDs, HIV, Ebola, SARS, Avian Influenza, etc.) and programmes (e.g. against Neglected Tropical Diseases/NTDs), as well as forms of care (Primary Health Care, Community Health, Culturally Congruent Care, Integrative Medicine, etc.), their translation into national contexts and their impact on vulnerable and marginalized populations. These topics are also discussed against the background of the Global Health paradigm, and the implementation of MDGs and SDGs in health-related interventions.