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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Colonial and postcolonial medicine

CHSTM 028-nurses-(2)
Newly trained nurses from Wusakili Hospital march in Labour Day celebrations on Zambia's booming Copperbelt in 1975. Today the country's highly trained nurses and doctors often leave to seek jobs in the NHS.

Why have some parts of the world been labelled 'healthy' while others are known for death and disease? What problems did travellers and migrants from the West faced in working and settling in new lands? How did the health of indigenous populations change a result of European settlement, colonial rule and in the post-independence era?

The history of colonial and postcolonial medicine deals with how the world health situation has come to be what it is today - a picture of stark contrasts in infant mortality, life expectancy and the experience of epidemic disease. Colonial government health campaigns aimed to produce healthy native workers and control their reproduction through maternity and child health services. These minimal programmes gave way to ambitious health service development by newly independent nations - health services now declining in the face of global market pressures and often incapable of meeting the challenges of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the resurgence of malaria and tuberculosis.

The history of colonial and postcolonial medicine also reveals the enormous variety of practices human societies have employed for understanding the healthy body and healing the ailing body. It explores the ways that the world's many medical traditions have been changed by their confrontation with Western medicine in colonial situations, as well as the ways this confrontation has changed Western medicine itself.

Researchers based at CHSTM's Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine are working in several exciting areas of the history and current problems of colonial and postcolonial medicine. These include the history of smallpox, mining company medical services and ecological approaches to the control of malaria, as well as indigenous African medicine, the introduction of treatments for HIV/AIDS and the history of health and migration.

Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students

Lyn Schumaker. "Slimes and death-dealing Dambos: water, industry and the Garden City on Zambia's Copperbelt". Journal of Southern African Studies, 2008, 34(4): 823-840.

Lyn Schumaker and Virginia A. Bond. "Antiretroviral therapy in Zambia: colours, 'spoiling', 'talk' and the meaning of antiretrovirals". Social Science and Medicine, 2008, 67(12), 2126-2134.

Michael Worboys, Sanjoy Bhattacharya and Mark Harrison. Fractured states: smallpox, public health and vaccination policy in British India, 1800-1947. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2005.

Michael Worboys. "Colonial and imperial medicine". In D Brunton, ed, Medicine transformed: health, disease and society in Europe, 1800-1930. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004, 211-38.

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