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The Value of Anthropology in Child Health Policy

Julie Spray

Keywords: child-centred anthropology; childhood; health policy; health promotion; New Zealand; rheumatic fever; streptococcus A

Working at the nexus of medical anthropology and the anthropology of childhood, this article challenges three assumptions often embedded in child health policy: (1) children are the passive recipients of healthcare; (2) children’s knowledge of illness and their body can be assumed based on adult understandings; and (3) children’s healthcare can be isolated from their social relations. I explore these themes through the case study of a 2011 New Zealand government initiative to reduce the rates of rheumatic fever affecting low-income Māori and Pasifika children. Drawing on fieldwork with around 80 children at an Auckland primary school, I show how the ‘sore throat’ programme does not merely treat streptococcus A infections, but plays an active role in constituting children’s experiences and understandings of their bodies and illness, and in shaping healthcare practices in ways unintended by policy-makers.

Affiliations

Spray, Julie - University of Auckland