Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge

By David Turnbull | Go to book overview
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5

MAKING MALARIA CURABLE: EXTENDING A KNOWLEDGE SPACE TO CREATE A VACCINE

Earlier chapters focused on the ways in which local knowledge is assembled and the differing kinds of knowledge space that are produced in other eras and cultures. In this chapter I want to look at what is involved in an attempt to create a knowledge space beyond the laboratory. The case in question is a particular attempt to develop a malaria vaccine. As the story unfolds it will become apparent that the value of a vaccine-based approach to combating malaria is contestable, and may work to the disadvantage of some malaria sufferers. This raises very profound questions about the value of this kind of knowledge space and points to its political and moral components. It will also become apparent that a fundamental social strategy in the establishment of a knowledge space is the disciplining of all the actors involved—scientists, malaria sufferers, mosquitos and parasites of all varieties.

This account arises from a visit I made to Papua New Guinea in 1986 as part of an anthropological study of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHIMR) in Melbourne. 1 The immunoparasitology unit, one of the most prominent laboratories at the Walter and Eliza Hall, was engaged in a collaborative research effort to develop a malaria vaccine in conjunction with the Institute of Medical Research in Papua New Guinea (PNGIMR), the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR), the University of Newcastle, Concord Hospital Sydney and the Australian National University.

The starting point of the story was the visit by a team from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to Papua New Guinea in 1986. The team’s task was to visit half a dozen sites around the world in order to select two that would be suitable for a ‘phase three’ trial of a malaria vaccine developed by Ruth Nussenzweig’s group at New York University’s Center for Vaccine Research. ‘Phase one’ trials test for harmful effects and the ability to produce antibody formation. ‘Phase two’ trials test for efficacy in immunologically naive individuals. These trials had already taken place using animal models and human volunteers in the USA. The ‘phase

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