Thando Malambo

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Alumna’s award highlights SFU’s strength in medical anthropology

November 07, 2016
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By Diane Luckow

Health sciences alumna Thando Malambo, who graduated last year with a master of science in health sciences, is the fourth SFU community member to win a prestigious Rudolf Virchow Award in medical anthropology.

She won the 2016 award, in the graduate paper category, for her 2015 paper examining the impacts and effects of low cervical cancer screening attendance in Swaziland.

The Virchow award is one of the most significant in the field of medical anthropology, which uses anthropological theory to examine how political, social and cultural realities affect health and health outcomes. The award is presented by the Critical Anthropology for Global Health Caucus, a special interest group of the Society for Medical Anthropology.

This is the third time in the past four years that an SFU professor or student has won. Anthropology professor Stacy Pigg won the award in 2014, health sciences professor Susan Erikson won in 2013 and, in 1990, health sciences dean John O’Neil won.

“This concentration of Virchow award-winners in a single institution is highly uncommon, and noteworthy,” says Erikson. "SFU appears to have a research cluster of excellence in medical anthropology.”

 Malambo attended SFU as an international student from Swaziland. She holds a B.A. in chemistry from Harvard.

Her award-winning graduate research paper revealed that women in Swaziland avoid cervical cancer screening because they consider cancer to be a worse diagnosis than HIV/AIDS.

“This is because there are very limited treatment options available locally for cervical cancer,” says Malambo.  “My paper’s findings are important because they reveal the unintended consequences of health funding priorities. Further, my paper upsets monolithic assumptions about African women and reveals that their fears about cervical screening are not always cultural. Sometimes, women’s fears are a product of the clinical, economic and political contexts of screening.”

 Malambo plans to pursue a PhD in medical anthropology and establish a career in public health research and teaching.