Culture and Policy Development


Subconsciously, most people perceive others through individualized cultural lenses. This effect stretches to how people conduct their activities, live their lives and, more specifically, conceptualize different health policies. In this regard, culture affects most aspects of human life. Allen & Heald (2004) present it as a set of shared knowledge, beliefs, and values that characterize a specific population group. In the health sector, culture affects the interaction between public health officials and community members (Allen & Heald, 2004). Consequently, health workers need to be aware of its role in influencing public health outcomes. This paper underscores the importance of developing culturally appropriate health policies and elaborates on the modalities available to health workers to help them do so.

Importance of Culturally Appropriate Public Health Policies

Cultural appropriateness in the public health sector requires health workers to respect social diversity (Campbell, 2011). Failing to heed to cultural dynamism may negatively affect the communication between health workers and community members. Therefore, formulating culturally appropriate health policies may help community members to feel respected and understood (Campbell, 2011). More specifically, it could help to build trust between health workers and their subjects.

The Possibility of a Public Health Policy Failing because of Cultural factors

A key determinant of policy effectiveness is its ability to achieve its intended goals (Lee, Buse, & Fustukian, 2002). However, several factors may prevent it from doing so. Culture is one issue that may cause this outcome. The probability that a public health policy would fail because of cultural ignorance is high. Evidence of this fact exists in the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa. Sierra Leone introduced a new public health policy that outlawed people from “hiding” Ebola victims (or suspected Ebola victims) in their houses (Thompson, 2014).

However, this policy made it difficult for health workers to collaborate with local communities in the management of the disease. Furthermore, it made the community less trusting of public health officials and the government (Thompson, 2014). In fact, often, the people thought that the public health officials were part of a wider government conspiracy to kill Ebola victims. To explain the above events, Thompson (2014) says many western African communities hold a deep mistrust of the government.

Therefore, when public health officials tried to implement the public health policy (of tracing the source of Ebola in West African villages), the people chased them away (Thompson, 2014). Their attire (white lab coats) further made the community more distrusting of their intentions (Thompson, 2014). Collectively, these examples show that there is a high risk of a public health policy failing because of cultural factors.

How can one develop a Public Health Policy so that it gets the Support of the Community?

One way of developing a public health policy that would get community support is involving community members during the policy formulation process. Public health officials can do so by involving community representatives in the decision-making process. This way, they would be concerned about the policy outcome. This strategy would make sure that community members have a stake in the success of the health policy (Porter, 2006).

How can we engage the Community to be Part of the Voice when Developing a Policy?

A good framework for encouraging community members to support new policies in public health is conducting periodic community consultations. Experts have proved that this strategy helps to build lasting relationships between community members and health officials (Artscape, 2014). It also allows health workers to leverage community resources when developing health policies. At the same time, it creates enough room for health officials to identify possible areas of threat (or problematic individuals) that may inhibit the realization of policy goals (Artscape, 2014). Engaging the community during the policy development process also requires health workers to be aware of the cultural inclinations of the targeted group. Failure to do so would alienate community members from the policy formulation process (Artscape, 2014).

Evidence of this fact manifested when formulating public health policies in Botswana. The process aimed to reduce HIV prevalence in the Southern Africa country. Policymakers and health workers ignored the reluctance of family members to discuss sex matters (openly) and instead voiced abstinence, being faithful, and using condoms (ABC) as a policy to guide people’s sexual health. The health officials ignored their types of audience and publicized the message to all people (Allen & Heald, 2004).

Consequently, they did not get much support from community members. Comprehensively, engaging community members in policy development requires health workers to show cultural sensitivity and, in cases where health workers may be new to a locality, it is important to conduct periodic consultations with community members when formulating health policies (Artscape, 2014).


This paper shows that culture significantly affects the efficacy and goals of health policies. Therefore, it is untenable for health workers and their associated policymakers to undertake their duties without considering the effects of cultural dynamics on their intended goals. However, it is important for professionals to conduct periodic consultations with community representatives (to realize community buy-in) when developing these health policies. Therefore, health workers should formulate culturally appropriate policies.


Allen, T., & Heald, S. (2004). Hiv/Aids Policy in Africa: What Has Worked In Uganda And What Has Failed In Botswana? Journal of International Development, 16(8), 1141-1154.

Artscape. (2014). A Guide to Engaging the Community in Your Project. Web.

Campbell, D. (2011). Anthropology’s Contribution to Public Health Policy Development. McGill Journal of Medicine, 13(1), 76.

Lee, K., Buse, K., & Fustukian, S. (2002). Health Policy in a Globalizing World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Porter, J. D. H. (2006). Epidemiological Reflections of the Contribution of Anthropology to Public Health Policy and Practice. Journal of Biosocial Science, 38(1), 133-144.

Thompson, D. (2014). Ebola’s Deadly Spread in Africa Driven by Public Health Failures, Cultural Beliefs. Web.