Conflicting models of health

Other Names:
Incompatible health paradigms
Disagreement on the nature of disease

Concerns about health and appropriate responses to disease are a normal feature of any culture. Different understandings have naturally evolved in different cultures over many centuries. Modern (western) medicine has had a strong influence on such perceptions, in many cases successfully displacing them. However, notably where modern medicine has not been successful in responding effectively to disease, or where the relatively high cost of such medicine has not been rendered accessible to people, other understandings of health and disease have continued to survive and develop. Such understandings are often in conflict with modern medicine. Its practitioners and users may be resistant, if not hostile, to imposition of external medical standards and practices, especially if these are perceived as invasive and contrary to the religious or ethical views of that culture. Protagonists of modern medicine may see any other approach as essentially based on dangerous superstition of little value. Alternatively those disabused by modern medicine, but ill-informed of other traditions, may enthusiatically advocate and use selected practices from them as though they were essentially better or more appropriate than those of modern medicine, effectively reframing disciplined alternatives into fashionable belief systems.


[Chinese tradition] The Chinese approach to health and disease has developed successfully over two millennia and continues to be widely appreciated and researched. It represents a thorough formulation and reformulation of material by respected clinicians and theoreticians, but is rooted in the philosophy, logic, sensibility and habits of a non-western civilization that has developed its own perception of the body and of health and disease. The actual logical structure underlying the methodology guiding the physician's clinical clinical insight and judgement differ radically from western tradition. Thus not only the names of diseases and the grouping of systems of the body are different, but also the features of the body on which diagnosis is developed. The focus of western medicine on isolable disease categories or agents of disease deduced from a pattern of symptoms and results in the identification of a relatively well-defined, self-contained cause subject to specific remedial action. Chinese practice endeavours to comprehend the complete physiological and psychological individual to identity a pattern of disharmony describing an imbalance in a patient's body. The issue of cause and effect is secondary to an understanding of relationships. Thus the logical of Chinese medicine is organismic or synthetic, attempting to organize symptoms and signs into understandable configurations that are the framework for treatment. What might seem to be a cause becomes part of a pattern, indistinguishable and inseparable from the effect. The cause is subsumed by the pattern, defining it in terms of the effect and making it part of the whole pattern. Western concept so cause have little importance in Chinese thought.

[Ayurvedic tradition] ***.

[Homeopathic tradition] Allopathy, or "different suffering", is the system of healing which assumes that treatment is best done by applying to a disease a cure not directly related to the disease. This is the standard medical approach used by the pharmaceutical and mainline health industries. This is the reverse of homeopathy ("same suffering") which assumes that disease is cured by "same suffering", or cures directly related to the disease. Allopathic medicine may not always provide the best approach for an individual, but it has dominated medical thinkers to such a degree that alternative approaches tend to be ignored.

[Folk traditions] There are a multitude of traditional folk healing traditions. In many parts of Africa, notably in Southern Africa, governments have developed a flexible attitude to the practices of traditional medicine, notably by local witchdoctors. In Kazakhstan, for example, as a result of the failure of health delivery systems within the former Soviet Union, locals were obliged to have recourse to traditional healers.

Traditional medicine is still practised to some degree in all cultures. "Barefoot doctors" are an important and respected part of the Chinese medical system; and the Western world is experiencing a renewed interest in traditional healing techniques such as homeopathy, Chiropracty, dietary regimes, and mind and body integration therapies. It is to the traditional healers that the great majority of the people of developing countries turn in times of sickness. For 80% of the population 'primary health care' is synonymous with traditional medicine.


Broader Problems:
Fragmentation of knowledge
Related Problems:
Inadequate medical training
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
C: Cross-sectoral problems
Date of last update
16.10.2021 – 10:20 CEST