Monday, March 5, 2012

Invited Seminar: The Ethnic Minority Health Project

Dr. Kevin K.C. HUNG
Assistant Professor, CERT-CUHK-Oxford University Centre for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response, School of Public Health and Primary Care, CUHK
"The Ethnic Minority Health Project: 
Health Promotion in Remote, Extremely Poor, Disaster Prone, Ethnic Minority Communities in China."
2 March 2012

How do practices change? Who should change them? This is one of the key issues in Kevin K.C. Hung’s talk about his work with the School of Public Health at CUHK on their China Village Project. The project aims to promote better public health in impoverished, ethnic minority areas of China that have undergone natural disasters. Hung’s talk focussed on the work at one of the project’s field sites in the village of Ma An in Gansu province in North Western China. They have introduced measures to reduce incidents of diseases such as lung cancer by encouraging the use of alternative sources of fuel in cooking, other than raw fuels like wood or charcoal, and encouraging smokers to quit smoking. Hung noted that on follow up trips much of the information that they had passed on to villagers had been forgotten and that this was problematic. Hung hopes that the gap in retaining information and implementing it can be overcome with greater utilisation of anthropological research methods.

There was a rigorous debate during the question and answer session after Dr. Hung’s talk, about changing the practices of local villagers. Many in the audience felt a sense of unease about a group of affluent Hong Kongers going up to Mainland China to tell people how to live better, healthier lives. Some audience members questioned the practicality of advice such as abandoning cooking with raw fuels indoors and the adaptability of a model based on interaction with Africa in the context of China. Others in the audience pointed out that anthropologists had often romanticised local practices in the past. What should be done? How can the optimum policy in public health be achieved, while acknowledging the validity of local practices such as burning wood? Hung noted that increased collaboration and empowerment of local people are important factors in achieving the best outcomes for public health in remote, impoverished areas. Thus, anthropologists have a key role to play in building a mutual understanding between local villagers and the public health workers.

M.Phil Candidate

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