Look at the person, not the disease: A model for holistic health

22 01 2013

By Caroline Hope Griffith
Research Analyst, Duke Global Health Institute


Dr. Sam Orach speaking to Institute participants.

Dr. Sam Orach, Director of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (and Thursday’s plenary speaker), was trained to treat the whole person, not the disease. Diseases are influenced by a community’s economic, social, political, and religious context and to truly understand the cause of an illness, doctors must always examine this context.

Dr. Sabina Mtweve, our seminar moderator, introduced a model that helped us frame Dr. Orach’s approach. The model captures all of the different dimensions of a truly healthy community. First, there must be a balance between the mental, physical, emotional, and social health of individuals within a community. Second, spiritual life and the physical environment of the community also must be in harmony. Next, the community must practice equitable distribution of resources, offer access to education, and promote gender equity. Lastly, the community must embrace moral values, provide good leaders and equitable policies, and respect the environment. If all of these requirements are met, then the community will not only be healthy, but it will be peaceful.


Dr. Sabina Mtweve showing us a model of a health community in Swahili.

Cathy Groenendijk, Executive Director of Confident Children in South Sudan, gave a poignant, yet bleak, example showing the interconnectedness of these elements. The poverty in the slums where she works causes depression among many parents. These parents often resort to alcoholism and can’t care for their children. The children fall sick from poor hygiene, malaria, and cholera. They are also exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse and live in a polluted environment full of sewage and waste. All of these factors contribute to a breakdown of cultural norms and traditional ways of life, and the community loses its direction and hope.

These conversations make me think more deeply about the term “global health.” It is important to remember that global health refers not only to geographic diversity, but also to a global perspective that includes context and community.

Thanks to all of you for following along with my blog. After an exhilarating week, I’m headed back to the US. I am grateful for the time I spent in Uganda with these leaders and for the insightful dialogue and experiences we had together.

See my earlier posts from the conference:

Health is Greater Focus of 2013 Peace & Reconciliation Conference in Uganda
Building Healthy Communities in East Africa
Don’t give up, don’t ever give up
The gift of language: A little French goes a long way




One response

31 01 2013
Gann Herman

Caroline, I just now stumbled on these blog posts–thank you so much for writing them and giving me a bit of insight into your week–it sounds rich indeed. Looking forward to hearing more on Monday night! Your presence at the GLI Institutes gives us a perspective that goes deeper than I am able to as overall coordinator–I am truly grateful for your presence among us.

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