Cecilia Krüger: Investigating Health Equality in Sweden

By Erin Cotton

Cecilia Krüger (ΦBK, Wheaton College, 2015) recently concluded and submitted her eighty page-long anthropology senior thesis, “Who has the Right to Healthcare? Swedish Perceptions on the Right to Healthcare in the Context of Demographic Change,” after spending a full summer abroad researching health care equality in Sweden. 

In order to gain a better understanding of the right to health in Sweden, Krüger travelled to the largest city and capital, Stockholm. It was in Stockholm that Krüger began a one month internship with The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). SIPRI has a Global Health division focused on completing research on gender, security and development, as well as on violence against health workers and facilities. This diverse and politically active city gave her the best access to the organizations where she was able to delve into her anthropology research. 

Krüger found that public health is a priority in Sweden. However, it was not until law 2013:07 was passed that the right to healthcare would extend to undocumented migrants. “As a member of the European Union and as a country with a historical reputation for both neutrality and strong humanitarian assistance, internationally Sweden has a reputation indicating a strong commitment to human rights,” Krüger explains in her thesis. 

She felt that this perception needed to be critically examined.

As an anthropologist, Krüger finds deep meaning in the diverse opinions regarding strains to the Swedish social system. These opinions lead her to begin uncovering the actual values of the Swedish people in regards to the right to healthcare. What she found was a tension in Swedish society regarding the economic impact of immigrant access to healthcare which is mirrored by politicians who believe the Swedish identity is threatened by immigration.

“The restrictive healthcare practices that construct the social reality of immigrants in need of healthcare must to be understood from a rights-based perspective rather than just a health or resource perspective,” Krüger writes. “As I hope my research has demonstrated, the marginalization of vulnerable persons is a social phenomenon that cannot be rectified by policy without first trying to understand the social context that causes it and allows it to continue to exist.” 

“It wasn’t my intention to have a controversial topic,” said Krüger. After she began interviewing her informants about patterns of research that Swedish Public Health organizations conduct in order to understand Sweden’s health priorities on a global scale, she quickly discovered that her informants were much more interested in talking about the right to health. 

Despite three weeks of research on her original topic, Krüger began to ask the questions her informants wanted to answer, giving her the data that shaped her thesis and paved the way to her future in research.

Through Krüger’s experiences abroad she has discovered a passion for participant observation. Her deep fascination for people, culture, and global health will continue to grow as she moves on from Wheaton College in the hopes of being a life-long researcher. “I learned that I love conducting fieldwork, and getting to know the stories of my informants,” she said. 

Krüger recently applied for a Fulbright research grant in Estonia. “I proposed to do an anthropological study on the differences in perception and access to healthcare for the ethnic Estonians and ethnic Russian populations in Estonia” she said. While similar to her research in Sweden, this grant would allow her to go much further in depth into the specific perceptions of a population while also helping her to gain more experience abroad as a researcher.

In addition to applying for a Fulbright, Krüger has applied to various graduate programs abroad in medical anthropology and public and global health. “This experience taught me that I will be happiest in the future doing work within anthropology and the sphere of healthcare and human rights,” said Krüger. “I want to be able to get out there and meet people, learn about their experiences and see firsthand what can be done to effect a positive and lasting change in people’s health situations.

Erin Cotton is a junior at Wheaton College majoring in Anthropology and Creative Writing. Wheaton College is the home of the Kappa of Massachusetts Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.