Colonial Epistemology in Western Healthcare

Colonial Epistemology in Western Healthcare

    The idea of colonialism as a model for international relations is a bit of a fringe subject, even within circles of academics Colonialism, defined as the duality that exists between “Western” and “Eastern” countries wherein dominant countries have undue influence over their colonized countries, manifests itself throughout societal institutions. This is in part due to our self-ascribed perfection in our way of doing things,  even though we insist that other theories of knowledge production are inherently flawed. While we can relate this idea to International Relations quite easily by observing our treatment of nation states, the colonial legacy or post-colonialism fits quite well within the boundaries of other institutions and social structures that create our society at large. This pertains especially to Western Healthcare and Medicine.

    Western Medicine, in both a historic and contemporary sense, has always had a course of study that emphasizes a strictly scientific approach to medical knowledge. While this certainly serves the goals of treating the physiological health of the patient, this narrow model ignores not just therapies, but entire medical systems that don’t fit within the criteria of what is believed to be a universal truth of Western Medicine. This results in alternative yet proven treatment options being ignored, such as acupuncture, cannabis, and others. This can be attributed to colonialist logic directly as the existing dichotomy of “good” and “bad” medicine certainly stems from centuries of an East-West duality. Indirectly, colonialism has lead to the concept of capitalism which in turn has arranged the Healthcare industry into a system of commodification.

    In terms of the capitalist, the patient has become the capital. In a laissez faire world, the patient is the consumer and the hospital is the mode of production. In economic terms, the hospital has the goal of efficiency which means using the fewest inputs or resources to obtain the greatest output or treatment. The costs of this flawed system, at least in the US, have resulted in skyrocketing prices of pharmaceuticals, over-prescription of drugs, and all together lower quality of treatment. While capitalism is inevitable with globalization and economic integration, a substantial number of countries have avoided the plague of a healthcare industrial complex by implementing healthcare policies that ensure equity between social groups.

    The colonial epistemology that we see within Western medicine is exemplary of an entrenched duality that prioritizes our understanding of medicine instead of opening up our world to other forms of knowledge production. This is the purest form of how we interpret the world within the boundaries of our own hegemonic understanding at the loss of others. The reflection of this as it pertains to healthcare clearly goes far beyond our direct ignorance of alternative therapies and all the way into our economic systems and how they benefit certain individuals over others.


 

References

Alves, R.R., & Rosa, I.L. (2006, October 30). Biodiversity, Traditional Medicine, and Public Health. Journal of Ethnobiology, 3-14. Retrieved from BioMed Central.

Jones, R.S. (2001, October 11). Medicine, Government, and Capitalism. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 111-112.

Said, E.W., 1979. Orientalism, New York, NY: Vintage Book

 

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