The Export of Biomedicine to Africa in the Context of Western Colonial Rule

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The field of tropical medicine was the conscious, political creation of the Western industrial powers to combat disease among European colonial soldiers, administrators and settlers. In a sudden burst of scientific zeal between 1895 and 1912, nearly all the colonial powers created their own specialized schools of tropical medicine. Over the next few decades, the Western powers selectively shared the benefits of tropical medicine with strategic sectors of the colonized populations. Laborers in key industries and civil servants were among the first to receive care. Women, children and the vast peasantry received the least attention. Just as colonial boundaries, industrial mining, cash-crop production and Christian missionaries had disrupted and transformed social patterns of organization, the introduction of biomedicine curtailed long-standing communal practices and transformed fundamental worldviews. In this sense, biomedicine arrived in Africa as an essential instrument of colonial rule and subjugation. However, beginning with a few very successful and highly visible public health campaigns such as the anti-yaws programs in East Africa in the 1920s. African attitudes toward biomedicine gradually shifted from suspicion to greater acceptance and biomedicine both as a practice and as an ideological worldview began to take root.


Presented at the Annual Meeting of American Sociological Association, in Montreal, Ontario, Canada on August 11, 2006.

This document is currently not available here.

Additional Files