By: Alanna Shaikh
I’ve been thinking lately about the language we use to discuss health. Specifically, the way we use imagery of war and violence when we talk about illness. We are talking about battling infections, fighting diseases, combating neglected tropical diseases. It’s a logical way to frame the situation – when we face an infection or a disease, it feels like our bodies are being attacked by a hostile invader. Of course, the first thing we think about is fighting back.
What do we lose, though, by only looking at disease in one way? “Battle” may be a useful metaphor, but is it the only useful metaphor? Does it keep us from thinking innovatively about health and healing?
For one thing, health is a lifelong process. It’s not a series of isolated happenings. It’s a person’s experience of their body from birth to death. You care for your health even when you aren’t sick. “Battle” metaphors keep us from thinking about preventative health.
Another thought – we can, and do, co-exist with all kinds of bacteria and microbes. In fact, we need bacteria for health. Our goal is not to eliminate all germs from our bodies. Our goal is to maintain the right balance. That doesn’t really fit with the theme of health and military readiness.
So, what other ways are there of thinking about health? We could look at our bodies – or our communities – as gardens to be tended. Remove some plants and fertilize others. Or, we could think of health as a picture to be drawn, and illness as a mistake that needs to be erased or painted over. How else could we think about health? What doors would that open in our minds – and our health care?
Alanna Shaikh is an expert in health consulting, writing about global health for UN Dispatch and about international relief and development at Blood & Milk. She also serves as a frequently contributing blogger to ‘End the Neglect.’ The views and opinions expressed by guest bloggers are not necessarily the views and opinions of the Global Network. All opinions expressed here are Alanna’s own and not those of any employer or the US government.