series event

Affinity and resistance to antibiotics and its internationalisation

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a public health threat which is currently seen to pose serious challenges to the effective management of infectious diseases in local, regional and international contexts. This presentation will examine the many complexities related to the invention, manufacturing, supply and the use and conceptions of misuse of antibiotics from the 1940s onwards. The aim is here to examine multiple understandings and interpretations of the clinical, social, political and economic drivers of AMR, which was – and remains – a multi-sectoral problem.

Suranga will explore the roles played by the WHO in enabling research into, and the production and supply of, antibiotics between 1948 and 1968, drawing on a range of archival materials. For the purposes of analysis, the WHO is not seen as a monolith, but as an intricate network of departments with distinct – and sometimes competing – interests. These intricacies existed both at the level of the WHO HQ and each Regional Office, and Suranga will argue that this shaped both messaging about the promotion of antibiotic use and the dangers of AMR, and that these narratives have co-existed side-by-side. Understanding this recent history of international action based on antibiotic enables us to work with a more self-critical, historically accurate and policy-relevant understanding of the ‘rationalities’ of use, as the socio-political challenges facing current challenges facing present AMR advocacy at all different levels of governance.      

Dr Suranga Dolamulla holds a prestigious Wellcome Trust Research Award in the Medical Humanities for Health Professionals and is a Senior Research Fellow employed by the Centre for Global Health Histories (CGHH), which is housed within the Department of History. He is a health policy researcher, designer and manager, and a practicing clinician and senior Sri Lankan government official (he currently serves as the Director of Tertiary Care Services within the Ministry of Health, which is the focal point for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of hospital and clinical services throughout the country).  Suranga obtained his preliminary medical degree from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a Masters and MD in Medical Administration from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He has travelled widely for specialist training, and this has included stints at the National Training Center in Obu, Japan; the Southern Medical College, China, and, most recently, at Sheffield Hallam University, UK.        


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