Global health in cross-cultural settings can involve numerous complex situations. Many have accused global health practitioners, despite their best intentions, of cultural imperialism due to their imposition of certain (usually Western) norms and worldviews as they attempt to improve health in cultural settings different than their own. History demonstrates many examples of foreigners detrimentally affecting the various groups they sought to help.
But is all advocacy for cultural change wrong? As an extreme example, one might point to human sacrifice as an area where even certain forms of cultural imperialism might be called for. Along the gradient there might be increasing gray areas for issues like foot-binding, female circumcision, differing views on mental health treatment, or even cultural practices for food or intake of different substances.
How should we decide what change to advocate for amidst cultural diversity? What should advocacy look like for outsiders in a different cultural environment? How do we balance individual autonomy and group cohesion in more communitarian cultures? Are there any moral absolutes or universal principles to guide our advocacy?
In the midst of differing worldviews and backgrounds, is there a “right” way to view health? How should one’s worldview or religious beliefs be allowed to impact the cultural change one advocates or the cultural underpinnings to particular global health agendas?
Harvard Medical’s previous forum Religion and Medicine here