'Alternative' Health Care and African-Americans
ED GORDON, host:
Joining us now to talk about how alternative health practices have resonated in African American communities is Eric Bailey, a medical anthropologist at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. He joins us via phone. Mr. Bailey, welcome.
Professor ERIC BAILEY (Medical Anthropologist, East Carolina University): Hello, Mr. Gordon.
GORDON: Again, I want to make sure that our listeners understand we're not suggesting any correlation between Mrs. King's visit and her death; not enough information to make any correlation there yet. But we do want to talk about the idea of alternative medicine and treatment, particularly within the African American community. You've written a book, African American Alternative Medicine: Using Alternative Medicine to Prevent and Control Chronic Disease. Do you see these methods, these treatments, growing over the course of the last few years?
Prof. BAILEY: Oh, very much so. The major reason why I wrote the book is that there has been a proliferation, a major growth of alternative and complimentary medicine in the United States all across the board, particularly in mainstream society, but also in particularly the African American community.
GORDON: While we have to be careful, obviously, with any treatment that is deemed, quote, "alternative", it seems to me that the media and certainly the Western medical community has brushed aside many of these treatments. I know friends of mine who've gone for alternative treatment. Dick Gregory swears by it in eradicating the cancer that racked his body. In your studies, is this something that needs to be looked at?
Prof. BAILEY: I believe so. I mean, it's like what I learned about the, heard about the practices of alternative practice from my grandparents and parents, and I was very curious. So I did a study on this, and when I did a study in looking at hypertension, for instance, and I conducted research studies among my informants in Detroit, Michigan at the time, and they told me a lot about their medication or their alternative therapies for hypertension. They would use different garlic tablets; they would use Epsom Salt; they would use all different, or water, or something of that nature. And they also informed their doctors about it, and they were trying to provide some means to control their blood pressure or alleviate the symptoms, and that was the major thing. And I was surprised about how many times and how willing people were able to tell me, they were willing to tell me everything about their alternative practice.
So I just continued that type of research and found out that there is not much clinical research or definitive research in the African American community with regard to how we use the alternative health care practice.
GORDON: Mr. Bailey, here is the concern. Those who are terminally ill really have nothing to lose. Oft times they say I'll try anything to try to stay alive. It's those that have not reached that stage who people are most concerned about, those who a, quote, "quack" could prey on very easily. How problematic has that been in your study?
Professor BAILEY: That is extremely important. I mean, that's where we come in where individuals are seeking the last minute type of care, and it's not clinically sanctioned. It's--there is not good measurement. There's not good control, and individuals find themselves in a precarious situation, and when they're thinking--and when they're not able to get the type of care that they feel comfortable with--and the reason why I bring this up is being comfortable with the type of care and when they're not comfortable with it and it doesn't follow their belief system, they tend to follow something that is alternative, that is outside of the mainstream healthcare practices, and it's not as definitive in the outcome, and they're just looking for someone who will meet their needs of seeking care and seeking a cure, and that's where the problem is. The major problem when you're looking at the long-term type of ramifications of it.
GORDON: How do you walk the fine line--historically, there's been a distrust among many African-Americans of medical doctors. You don't want to use alternative treatment untested where Western measures may in fact assist you. How do you walk that fine line in being able to help yourself without killing yourself because of the distrust?
Professor BAILEY: Oh, that's a very good question. I mean, that's where we have to seek a lot of information, not just from family members and friends but, you know, from family members and friends who are in the healthcare professions, and so we can continue to get definitive information, much more detailed information on the types of options of medical care that is available for us. Most of the alternative and complementary medicines are for preventative purposes. It's a long-range type of counteracting a disease or an illness, and we're trying to alleviate symptoms, yet we sometimes go beyond that in trying to seek other types of serious conditions.
GORDON: Yeah. Well, it's important here to note for all who find themselves in this place is a second or third opinion always important, whether you're talking about...
Professor BAILEY: Oh, very...
GORDON: Western standardized medicine or alternative treatment?
Professor BAILEY: Oh, very much so, and I think we need to be more - as a medical anthropologist, I'm always looking at the cross-cultural perspective and how other groups have taken care of themselves through history, and as a matter of fact, our society, or Westernized system is learning a lot from other medical and alternative healthcare systems. That's the reason why our medical system is growing in a lot of different new therapies that are being clinically tested right now and has been for several years. And that's what I found in my research, and particularly, when I was at NIH.
GORDON: All right. Eric Bailey teaches at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. He is the author of the book African American Alternative Medicine: Using Alternative Medicine to Prevent and Control Chronic Disease. Mr. Bailey, thanks for joining us today. Appreciate it.
Professor BAILEY: Thank you so much.
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