Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Nexus between Global Health and Public Health in Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Nexus between Global Health and Public Health in Africa

Article excerpt

Tamara Giles-Vernick and James L.A. Webb, Jr. (eds.). 2013. Global Heath in Africa: Historical Perspectives on Disease Control. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 246 pp.

Ruth J. Prince and Rebecca Marsland (eds.). 2014. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 292 pp.

William H. Schneider. 2013. The History of Blood Transfusion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. 239 pp.


Scholarship that historicizes the connections between global health and public health in Africa has been far apart in African medical history. Three recent titles that focus on global health in Africa, public health in Africa, and the history of blood transfusion are an attempt to fill that gap. The titles contain a set of diverse and empirically rich case studies that examine various aspects of global health and public health in Africa from the colonial period to the post-colonial era. They also bring into conversation African medical anthropology as well as historical and biomedical sciences in analyzing the globalization of health and healing in Africa. Although there is no single definition of global health, Tamara Giles-Vernick and James L. Webb note that broadly, the term refers to health initiatives launched within Africa by actors based outside of the continent. These health initiatives have roots in the colonial period and came to their modern forms in the post-Second World War era (p. 3). The various public health programs were made possible by the participation of local actors. The titles, therefore, wrestle with the important issues in which public health in Africa, including blood transfusions, are affected and influenced by global forces and agencies as well as local factors that originate within African settings.

Historicizing Global Health in Africa

Global Health in Africa: Historical Perspectives, edited by Tamara Giles-Vernick and James L. Webb, consists of an array of essays aimed at promoting historical and an anthropological research that incorporates social sciences and biomedical approaches in analyzing the state of global health in Africa. Giles-Vernick and Webb underscore the need to bridge the divide between social sciences and biomedical approaches in order to improve the public health delivery system in Africa (p. 2). Divided into three parts, the first examines international interventions in public health in Africa. The case studies range from early efforts at eradicating smallpox, historical analysis on malaria control, the historical contexts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the often neglected problem of malnutrition. Using the case of the West African smallpox eradication campaign in the pre-Second World War era, William Schneider notes that early efforts at eliminating small pox were a "partial success" (p. 26), mainly due to the absence of international coordination on disease eradication. Schneider is keen to demonstrate that even though this was the case, such early efforts formed the bedrock for future public health interventions. While Schneider places emphasis on smallpox, Webb focuses on malaria. He demonstrates that the history of malaria eradication gives public health experts lessons for today's malaria control, in particular how the failure to sustain the control of malaria can lead to an epidemic of malaria. The chapter by Guillaume Lachenal puts under scrutiny the genealogy of therapeutic approach called "Treatment as Prevention" (TasP) and its relation to the current efforts at reducing HIV transmissions (p. 70). The essay contextualizes the present fight against HIV in a historical perspective. The often neglected issue of childhood nutrition is examined by Jennifer Tappan. Tappan's work underscores the consequences of narrow biomedical understanding of nutrition that did not take into consideration Africans' reception and interpretation of the intervention (p. 13). The essay points to the significance of having a wider social and cultural analysis of how people receive public health interventions. …

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