Disease and African Society

Shane Doyle

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online November 2017 | | DOI:
Disease and African Society

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Disease in Africa has been the subject of a large number of rich studies. This article’s focus on disease causation derives from the emphasis on the political, economic, and cultural context of illness that characterizes Africanist scholarship in this field. A prominent strand of writing has examined how Africa’s relationship with external forces, from imperial conquest through the development of tropical medicine to neoliberal privatization, has shaped how disease has both spread and been interpreted. Scholars have noted the continuities in the depiction of Africa and Africans as particularly prone to disease from the era of Western exploration, through colonization, missionization, and industrialization, into modern discourses around Global Health, emerging tropical diseases, and chronic illness. Within this narrative, debates around the relative significance of race and environment have proven remarkably resilient, due, in part, to commercial interest in genetic vulnerability to disease and investigations into the relationship between zoonoses and cancer. Significant research has also explored how the scientific sureties of Western biomedicine have often been filtered within Africa through faith-based organizations’ spiritually infused healthcare, particularly in the early colonial period and in response to the recent sidelining of public provision associated with structural adjustment and the international prioritization of vertical programs targeting specific illnesses. This interest is matched by explorations of evolving indigenous traditions of disease explanation, so often tinged with a concern for spiritual as well as physical healing, and with public as well as personal health. While the article is structured broadly around chronological shifts in thinking and practice, a number of specific diseases or groups of diseases—HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, mental illness, sleeping sickness, and STDs—have been selected to serve as case studies, due either to their significant role within the history of Africa or to the global importance of the academic writing on these conditions.

Article.  13418 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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