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Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis


Inaugural Hannah History of Medicine lecture looks at care in Africa

25 Sep 2015

The first lecture in the newly-established Hannah History of Medicine and Medical Humanities Speaker Series, sponsored by the Hannah Unit in the History of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, will be given on Weds Sept. 30 by Dr. Steven Feierman ,Professor Emeritus of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania.

Care: The Missing Term in Eastern African Medicine, is co-sponsored by CHEPA. The lecture’s abstract reads:

How effective was the formal system of medicine in Africa for providing everyday care to the majority of the population?  In the story of the missionary physician who arrives in Africa among diseased people, cures them and earns their eternal gratitude, we rarely ask what care they actually provided. 

In eastern Congo, on a single tour in 1937, one British missionary physician examined 47,000 people. Other mission doctors claimed similarly outlandish numbers. The fantasies of the region’s medical authorities that something called “prevention” could serve as an effective medical system meant the vast majority of the population got no biomedical care at all. 

At the time of independence, international financial institutions argued that prevention ought to take the place of care in rural medicine.

 After 1970, formal health systems were undermined by economic crises and political dysfunction, followed by the disasters of AIDS and Structural Adjustment.  As a result, for the majority of the region’s people, most care of the sick has taken place outside the boundaries of biomedicine. 

The open question here is whether today’s authorities continue to imagine the possibility of effective medicine without care.

Steven Feierman is Professor Emeritus of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has maintained a continuous presence in Northern Tanzania, as anthropologist and historian, since his graduate student days. Feierman is the author of Peasant Intellectuals, of The Shambaa Kingdom, and editor of The Social Basis of Health and Healing in Africa. He has a PhD in History from Northwestern University and a DPhil from Oxford in Social Anthropology.

The lecture takes place on Weds. Sept. 30, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Health Sciences Library, C. Barber Mueller History of Health and Medicine Room, Lower Level, Room 1B3. All are welcome.

The talk is co-sponsored by the Department of History, African and African Diaspora Studies Program, CHEPA and the Department of Health, Aging, and Society.

For more information, please contact the Hannah Unit Program Assistant, Nathan Coschi at

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