“Coping with this scourge” : the state, leprosy, and the politics of public health in colonial Ghana, 1900-mid 1950s
MetadataShow full item record
The dissertation explores the politics of aspects of public health policy in colonial Ghana from 1900 to the mid-1950s. It explains why leprosy a highly debilitating disease condition, did not receive any serious attention by the Gold Coast colonial and medical authorities, but diseases like yaws and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) did, although the three diseases generally afflicted people of the same geographical location, and did not wreck any havoc on the European population. I implicitly challenge the interpretations of scholars who frame the argument, based on the notion of conceptualizing Africa’s disease environment as an anathema to European imperialism and colonization, that colonial public health policy was driven by how the African disease environment affected the lives of both official and non-official Europeans in the colonies. I argue that the thinking of the Gold Coast colonial and medical authorities on the disease environment was not a static one. By the mid-1930s the disease was conceptualized as an exploitable resource. Medical and pharmaceutical research became important, as were markets for pharmaceutical products. The welfare of the colonial economy, which was labor driven was at play and so was the cultural image of the superiority of anything European. Leprosy was not an appropriate disease for experiment purposes and because the healing process of lepers who were treated by European medication was not spontaneous it challenged the notions of cultural and material superiority being bandied around. Leprosy did not also affect the labor pool of the cocoa and mineral industries. Leprosy was essentially abandoned for trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) and yaws which threatened not just the numbers, but also the quality of labor pool for the cocoa and mineral industries. The two disease offered appropriate avenues for extensive medical and pharmaceutical research. The trial medications deployed showed spontaneous improvement on patients and that bolstered both the notions of medical and cultural superiority and the urge for western pharmacopeia. To ensure the full exploitation of this emerging pharmaceutical market, colonial government was relentless in suffocating the professions of African herbal practitioners.