Organ trade highlighted in new course
It can scarcely be defined as organ "donation".
The international trade in organ parts is a growing concern for health professionals, ethicists and anthropologists alike.
It is an illegal trade fraught with risk: people in developing countries endangering their own lives for very little financial return by selling their organs to local dealers. These dealers then organise for the body parts to be surgically delivered to well-off Westerners who barely know exactly what they are getting for their money.
This topic, along with many others, will be discussed at an innovative course held at the University of Adelaide later this month.
Hosted jointly by the universities of Adelaide and Flinders, the Anthropology and Public Health National Short Course is the first of its type to be held in Australia and will examine how the fields of public health and culture are related.
One of the organisers, Dr Megan Warin from the University of Adelaide's Department of Public Health said international organ trade is a perfect example of how closely the two fields are aligned.
"This trade is not just about organ donation or medical work, but is also grounded in cultural issues of global inequity and poverty," she said.
"Affluent Westerners pay huge sums of money to get kidneys from impoverished communities in developing countries. The `donors' receive little money for their organs, are no better off financially and in their everyday lives, and are often left with the disabling effects of major surgery, or ongoing complications.
"Many `donor' recipients find they are no better off either, as they receive organs that are infected with Hepatitis C or similar diseases.
"It is certainly not the altruistic `gift' that many of us like to think organ donation is - it is more like exploitation.
It's the issues underlying this trade that illustrate the ways in which the changing shape of culture and health is intimately entwined."
A host of other topics will also be discussed during the course, including the health and wellbeing of refugees in Australia, health research with indigenous communities, culturally appropriate sexual health programs in Brazil, and the Catholic Church's stance on contraception.
"The Catholic Church situation is an interesting one, particularly for developing countries," Dr Warin said.
"From a health point of view, we know that condoms in particular are a highly effective and relatively cheap and accessible way of controlling sexually-transmitted diseases, which for many countries around the world are an enormous problem.
"And yet from an anthropological or cultural viewpoint, we have the Catholic Church, which can exert enormous influence on the way people live their lives, telling local health workers in countries such as Kenya that condoms do not stop HIV transmission as they have holes in them.
"The flow-through effects of this health education into communities is disastrous. The church's objection to the use of birth control measures is blocking access to condoms and sex education, and as a result, helping the disease to spread. This is a clear example of religious beliefs and public health impacting on one another.
"There are no easy solutions to how we can reconcile these two points of view, but the short course is designed to at least recognise that they are very much intertwined and need to be considered together."
The Anthropology and Public Health National Short Course will be held from September 27 to October 1, and is open to postgraduate students and health professionals in related fields. It is supported by the Department of Health.
Story by Ben Osborne
The keynote address of the Anthropology and Public Health National Short Course will be given by Professor Sandy Gifford, Professor of Public Health and Director of the Refugee Health Research Centre at La Trobe University. Entitled Re-situating ethnography and epidemiology: critical reflections on anthropology and public health in Australia and drawing on her work with refugees, it will be given on Tuesday, September 28 at 1pm in Napier Lecture Theatre 102. Entry is by gold coin donation.