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Rockefeller Foundation parasitism and the peripheral origins of global health

Rockefeller-directed hookworm treatment team in British Guiana, c. 1916.
Rockefeller-directed hookworm treatment team in British Guiana, c. 1916. Photo Courtesy Rockefeller Archive Center.

The Rockefeller Foundation invented an international health system virtually overnight in 1914, simultaneously launching a pilot project throughout Central America and the British Caribbean to treat hookworm disease and lay the foundations of permanent departments of health under the auspices of its International Health Board.

In 1916 this program was extended to post-colonial countries and colonial territories throughout the world.  In each case, however, local research on hookworm disease and programs to treat it preceded the Foundation.  Indeed, we might see the RF as itself an "artful parasite" operating on a global scale, feeding off these nodes of creative local public health to give life to a new international health system. 

Steven's worm's eye view attempts to restore the agency of peripheral and subordinate actors to the origins story of global health, and raises a number of methodological issues that may be worth considering as scholars, practitioners and activists devote greater attention to the decolonization of global health.        


About the speaker

Steven Palmer, Professor of History at the University of Windsor in Canada, is the author of Launching Global Health: The Caribbean Odyssey of the Rockefeller Foundation (2010) and, with Marcos Cueto, Medicine and Public Health in Latin America: A History (2015).  From 2006-2016 he held the Canada Research Chair in History of International Health at the University of Windsor. 


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