Applying the Philosophy of Ubuntu to Medicine

Ubuntu is a word that I formally learned in beginners Xhosa class and informally through the people in which I engaged. The direct translation of this Xhosa word is: I am because we are. It is a philosophy that encourages humanity and interconnectedness. Little did I know that when I signed up for beginners Xhosa class in order to greet the patients I would meet in the clinic, I would learn of a philosophy that could heal the US healthcare system.

Interconnectedness of Diseases

The complex reality is that diseases are not isolated medical problems. They are medical problems in the context of interconnected biological systems that construct the human body. When we focus on treating diseases in isolation, we get a myopic view of the problem and thus a partial solution.

Interconnectedness of Determinants

Much like America, South Africa is a country with diverse identities, a sensitive history, and an environment segregated by race and social status. And much like America, these factors complicate healthcare access, equity, and outcomes. Throughout my time working in and navigating medical spaces within historically complex cities, I have learned to comprehend human disease within a context that encompasses, rather than sequesters, social issues.

Interconnectedness of Departments

Specialization in medicine has fragmented patient care and created silos. Collective wisdom will help heal the fragmented health care system. Previously independent fields are now integrating towards innovation. We need to bring in perspectives from different departments to help foster creativity in health care.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.”

-African Proverb

Understanding these interconnected concepts, building electronic systems that capture the continuum of patient medical history from all sources of care, and using a compassionate approach to humanity is what medicine should focus on to heal the system-the Ubuntu of medicine.

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Komal Kumar

Komal Kumar obtained her MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a researcher, public health advocate, and a 2017-2018 Fulbright Scholar to South Africa.