Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of the various forms of disease in
human populations. Epidemiology
does not on the individual case of ill health,but rather on groups of people, both healthy and diseased
epidemiologists try to relate its occurrence and distribution
to a variety of factors associated with most victims of that condition in
order to discover its probable aetiology.
Their aim is to uncover a causal link between one or more of these
factors and the development of the disease. anthropologists deploy universals to
arrive at particulars, epidemiologists tolerate particulars in their quest for universals'
Similarities betweenAnthropologists and epidemiologists:
Both deal with the study of populations rather than individuals.
Both seek to understand the role of social (and other) variables in the lives of individuals and how they
impact upon them.
Epidemiological surveys use two kind of approaches:
The case-control method examines a sample of the population suffering from a particular disease.
If it is possible to demonstrate a statistically significant correlation between certain factors and
the occurrence of the disease then a casual link can be postulated.
In the cohort study approach, a healthy populanon (some of whom are associated with hypothetical
time, waiting for a particular disease to occur.
If those associated with a particular risk factor are
found to be more likely to develop the disease subsequently, then a causal link between the risk factor and the
disease can be postulated.
In the developing world, anthropological insights have been especially useful in unravelhng
the causes of more exotic diseases. Afamous example of this was kuru (a progressive degenera¬
tive disease of the brain), which epidemiological studies in the 1950s found to be confined to
women and children in a small area of the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea. The disease was virtu¬
ally unknown among men. Various theories were advanced to explain this, but it was eventually
found to be caused by a 'slow virus' infection in the brain, which was transmitted by the ritual can¬
nibalism of dead relatives practised only by some women and children in that area
For this discovery, Carlton Gadjusek was given the Nobel Prize in 1976 The cultural and social background of the epidemiologist and of the populations studied may affect
the validity of the epidemiological data gathered. In that sense, epidemiology as a discipline always
reflects a particular cultural view of reality, and how it should be studied.
Accordign to Trostle,''epidemiology is one particular system of knowledge producrion; it is, in short, a culture
Epidemiology is directed more towards the study of 'disease' rather than that of 'illness'. Its
scientific approach leads to an emphasis on 'hard' or objectively verifiable data, such as abnormal
blood pressure readings, graphs, blood tests or other measurable changes in the body's structure or function