According to an American anthropologist Edward T Hall, ‘culture is not made up, but something that evolves which is human’. Similarly, culture is not static, it
is passed on from one generation to another as each generation contributes its experience of the world and discards cultural beliefs and practices that are no longer useful to them. Hence culture is a tool used by people to assure their survival and well being, as well as use it to provide meaning to their
lives. It is, thus, evident that cultural norms and beliefs are the backbones of many families, communities, organisations and nations. Even more important, different cultures and traditions, divides human beings and group them into different communities to form nations. Culture is seen in many
ways such as behaviours, beliefs, values, customs followed, dress code, relationship with others, etcetera.
While culture can be defined differently depending on which context you are, did you know that our culture and heritage have significant influences on our
perspective about health care and the healthcare providers?
In contrast, science is generally defined as the quest and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world using a systematic approach that is based on evidence.
The use of science is aimed at producing more explanations of how the natural world works, what its components are, and how the world got to be the way
it is now. Indeed science is both a body of knowledge and processes of discovery that allows us to link isolated facts into coherent and comprehensive understandings of the natural world. Scientists are motivated by the ecstasy of seeing or figuring out something that no one has ever discovered before.
In can thus be said with confidence that, science is useful because the knowledge generated by science is powerful and reliable.
Most importantly, science can be used to treat diseases, and deal with many other sorts of problems.
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked an unmatched wave of research, data sharing and open science as the scientific world continues to seek and understand
the virus. Scientists are in the laboratories, researchers are in the field and reading literature to inform efforts and discover scientific evidence and develop
medicine to control and treat the coronavirus.
On the other hand, we have also heard that members of the general public in many nations have been trying to use what is naturally available within the
different cultures to help and treat themselves. Many scientists have however been cautioning people not to use substances which are not scientifically tested and proven to be safe for use. Nonetheless, it can be said with confidence that even before the coronavirus pandemic, many people in different
communities have already been performing cultural practices and using natural substances which they believed could cure certain ailments.
At present, we have heard about Madagascar’s herbal concoction which made headlines and was alleged to have been a traditional cure for Covid-19. In Namibia, we have also had the elephant dung making headlines and alleged to be a relief of the Covid-19 symptoms. While all questions and comments have been directed to the ministry of health from community members wanting to know if there is any truth in the elephant dung or the Madagascar herb, it must be known that health care professionals are trained to use science and evidence to reason and to practice the profession.
However, the subject of ethics and professional practice has also taught health care professionals to be culturally aware, competent and sensitive.
This means that despite the fact that health professionals also have their own cultural beliefs and values, they should always look at situations from the
clients’ perspectives. Madeleine Leinenger who developed the theory of culture care diversity and universality explained that healthcare professionals should be
empowered with the knowledge and skills to respond to the needs of clients and their families at an intensely stressful time.
This explains the importance of incorporating and supporting culture-specific values into health promotion provided that the cultural values are not harmful
to the clients. In addition, health care professionals should not be ethnocentric because ethnocentrism potentially results in prejudices about people from
other cultures and the rejection of their alien ways, misunderstanding and mistrust.
Thus, enhancing cultural competency by providing clientcentred care is how healthcare challenges are ameliorated.
The goal of providing culturally competent health care services is also to provide consistent quality of care to every client, regardless of their cultural, ethnic, racial, or religious background. When individuals and systems work together to provide a positive environment of cultural competence that meets the religious
and spiritual needs of clients, the outcome for clients improves, and the system as a whole creates a more positive healthcare environment.
There fore, while it is acknowledged that cultures and traditions play a role in the health of individuals, it is also equally important to note that science
matters. Science provides solutions to national and global health challenges and this underscores the urgent need for increased investments in research to find
cures for the diseases that devastate people’s lives and strategies to promote better health. Science is a global human endeavour in which people all over the world participate. You too can participate!