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Medical anthropology in Indonesia: a lively discussion on impact and society

How can anthropological insights most effectively contribute to addressing societal questions on health and care? On Friday the 15th of December, the Leiden University Medical Anthropology Network and the ERC-funded Globalizing Palliative Care project hosted a roundtable discussion about the impact of medical anthropology research in Indonesia.

Dr. Irwan Martua Hidayana of the University of Indonesia, Dr. Lex Kuiper of the University of Amsterdam, and Hanum Atikasari MPhil of Leiden University were the speakers of the roundtable moderated by Bart Barendregt. They were joined by a truly interdisciplinary audience from Leiden and Amsterdam, representing not only anthropology, but also law, humanities and medical disciplines.

Striving for impact

Dr. Hidayana offered a helpful overview of the history and current state of medical anthropology in Indonesia, Lex Kuiper presented insights from his study of methadone users and Hanum Atikasari reflected on the potential impact of her study of advanced cancer care. In the ensuing discussion, speakers and audience collaboratively established a range of issues to take into account when striving for impact.

Different levels of impact

A first decision to make, all speakers agreed, is at what level our research can sort impact. Do the results potentially affect national policy? Or would it be better to address local policy or practitioners? This focus matters not only because of the decentralized governance in Indonesia, but also because change may be fostered through policy and practice. Moreover, science communication or outreach to the communities anthropologists work with can have significant impact on a local level.

Impact through successful collaborations

A second decision is about who to target and engage. Dr. Hidayana shared examples of successful collaboration with NGOs that explicitly took up research results in their advocacy work. Participants also noted the increasing interested from other disciplines, including medicine, in anthropological work. Furthermore, engaging influential key actors, such as politicians and other public figures may function as a viable entry way in informing health care organization through our research.

Increasing visibility

Finally, all speakers argued for the need for more visibility of medical anthropology in Indonesia. While the discipline was increasingly consulted during the pandemic, creating a national association that could generate more structural visibility is a current aspiration. The major takeaway of this afternoon, then, centered around the significant potential for a larger role of medical anthropology in addressing societal issues, which medical anthropologists can foster by engaging key actors and organizations at both local and national levels, in Indonesia and beyond.

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