Cultural blind spots in global health

On February 7, 2010, in culture, global health, by Karen Grepin

“Many of the most important issues in international health are so completely taken for granted that they are never discussed. We tend especially to have cultural blind spots because we assume that our own values are the international norm and that our way of doing things is automatically right. We become aware of cross-cultural problems only when our personal assumptions are challenged by a clear conflict of values. Only rarely do we review our motivations.”

The above quotation was taken from an editorial article published in 1979 by Carl Taylor, Professor Emeritus of International Health at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health, in the American Journal of Public Health. I came across this article recently and included it in my spring undergraduate NYU course (Global Health: Policies, Politics, and Institutions) reading list because although the article was written over 30 years ago, it is as true today.

I found out this evening (via Twitter) that Professor Taylor passed away earlier this week. I was saddened to hear that the global health community had lost one of its founding fathers. You can read more about Professor Taylor, and his work, especially on the need for local solutions in global health problems, here.

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3 Responses to “Cultural blind spots in global health”

  1. Allison says:

    I think that the point that Dr. Taylor made about the fact that we "tend especially to have cultural blind spots because we assume that our own values are the international norm and that our way of doing things is automatically right" has profound implications for public health and health communication. In creating health campaigns we must evaluate whether or not it is ethical to impose our own viewpoints and cultural truisms on other groups.

  2. Karen Grepin says:

    I could not agree more. I also wonder to what extent imposing cultural biases leads to inefficiencies in health communications as well….

  3. Tim France says:

    These cultural blind spots as you/Dr Taylor refer to them, or 'accepted truths' might tbe a more inclusive term, would be a good theme for a wiki-type project that many people could contribute to. I just wonder if it might be possible to list the main ones, and whetehr being awre of them might be a good start? A bit like being aware of prevalent miscocneptions.

    So here goes from me:

    The accepted truth that…. the concept of autonomous individualism, and all the human right-based health discourse/approaches that stem from it, are applicable everywhere. They're just not, no matter how cetnrally you believe in health equity. But it's never questioned whether that's the framework we should be using.

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