UCL Medical Anthropology Outreach: Residential Summer School Medical Anthropology for Dummies and an Insight into Yemen’s Crisis

UCL Medical Anthropology Outreach: Residential Summer School

Medical Anthropology for Dummies and an Insight into Yemen’s Crisis

By Naqiya Hassanali

Upper Sixth former from Leicester

For the fifth week of my summer holiday I’d signed up to actually get out of bed for a Medical Anthropology summer school at UCL.  Meeting a few friends at the train station to catch our train to St.Pancras that early in the day was clearly foreshadowing how hustling our week in London would be. Arriving at UCL with little understanding as to what the anthropology course entailed wasn’t a problem as the gaps in my knowledge were filled thanks to Caroline, our anthropology mother for the week. In this blog post I’d like to take you through what I got out of the summer school and how I used it for our own project – Crisis in Yemen.

Being a prospective medic, what intrigued me about anthropology was its relationship with public health. We learnt how illness is experienced internationally over an academic session with Tobi, a researcher – conducting a clinical study with acute stroke survivors in Ghana. Interviews, a method of collecting information, was explored during the session. The importance of a safe, comfortable space, where the interviewee had established a relationship based on trust for the researcher, is essential for obtaining correct information – quite a universal concept! An example given was: certain patients were taking herbal medication in place of/as well as the pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by their doctor against their physician’s knowledge. However, due to the time and efforts taken by the anthropologist to build that level of trust, this information was inclosed. I applied this concept to a NHS Clinic/ GP setting to be a form of interview, and noticed that the doctor was able to get more detailed, useful information from a longer clinic consult than a 10 minute GP appointment; which in many cases result in a specialist consultant referral anyway. – I’d done some work experience/shadowing a week prior to the summer school.

This might seem obvious but it got me to appreciate how our healthcare system is designed to be efficient around these same principles.

As a part of our summer school, we had the opportunity to present a chosen research topic to immensely intelligent and experienced anthropologists. Having just discovered what their subject was and the purpose for their research, presenting seemed daunting. Nonetheless, once we got investigating and putting our research skills into practice, the idea became exciting! We ended up representing the medical anthropology stream and delivering our presentation to the whole summer school – whoop!


From L to R: Shalaka, Moi, Iqra, Mahnaaz, Ghazhal and Fariha, an unbelievable pleasure!


Yemen’s Crisis

Yemen was decided because of the lack of media coverage; we thought it necessary to inform others about the state of civilian lives through our presentation.

The importance of architecture was a concept explored by our group. As a part of collecting our research, we visited an exhibition- ‘Buildings that fill my eye’. The purpose of this exhibition was to share with visitors Yemen’s many splendours of architectural heritage and to raise awareness of its devastation. Something that stuck out to me was this quote, “Wealth and power were articulated in the building of defensive, palatial tower houses, and this remains true today in many Yemeni towns…”

From this we can infer that buildings are crucial symbol for civilians, their identity lies within these structures. Once war destroys these symbols of culture, the civilians lose their identity and power, ultimately making them a vulnerable society. Unfortunately, structural violence is related to the harm caused to civilian lives. For example, the removal of homes and hospitals as well as religious monuments have an impact on the health and wellbeing of civilians.

Trevor H.J. Marchand, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, SOAS (13 July 2017-23 September 2017). Buildings that fill my eye. Retrieved from https://www.soas.ac.uk/gallery/yemen (Photographs taken by Trevor H.J. Marchand)

My week in London was stellar! I’d recommend the summer school to everyone regardless of whether you plan to study anthropology or not because either way you’ll gain a great volume of knowledge, be exposed to student life whilst learning from current students, meet new, interesting people and make some wonderful friends!

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