Toxic Drugs and Invisible Harms: Chemo-waste on an African Cancer Ward
Bio: Marissa Mika is joining the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda as Head of Humanities and Social Sciences in spring 2019. She holds a PhD (2015) in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania and an MHS (2007) in International Health from Johns Hopkins. Before teaching and studying African history, she worked in international development and public health. Since 2002, she has lived for extended periods of time in South Africa, Togo and Uganda. Her research has been supported by a variety of institutions including the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
Abstract: When we think of cancer and the South, we often think of a place “without oncology” particularly in Africa where biomedical interventions have long been associated with addressing infectious diseases and improving maternal and child health. As the onco-technological fixes of radiotherapy and chemotherapy slowly roll out on the continent, so too do the questions about how to procure radiotherapy sources and chemotherapy vials, and what happens to these toxic treatments after they burn and poison. This talk offers a deep historical and ethnographic analysis of the issue of procuring, reusing, and disposing of the stuff of oncological work at the Uganda Cancer Institute, where I have worked since 2010. The Institute began fifty years ago as a site of chemotherapy research and experiment. Today it serves as the key site of public oncology goods in the Great Lakes Region, seeing over 40,000 patients a year. I take us into the material practices, embodied experiences, and spatial politics of administering drugs that have powerful, violent effects. The drugs I draw out three central contradictions in oncological practice at the UCI: the thin line between disposability and reuse; the contradictions of scarcity in a place of abundance; and the (longstanding) theme of healing and harming in health work.