Diseases on the move: understanding long-term disease patterns in Africa, 1850 -1960

Project: Research

Project Details


The current pandemic sweeping across the globe has forcefully brought into the limelight the importance of good health for all. Yet, millions of people around the world lack access to even basic preventive and curative health infrastructures and Sub-Saharan Africa is considered particularly vulnerable in this respect. Still, many African countries have been praised for their effective campaign against the spread of COVID-19. As outbreaks of epidemics are not new to Africa, the experience fighting them might have offered some resilience to the current pandemic. Indeed, many insights into the nature and spread of tropical and infectious diseases owes much to the African experience, such as vector control and mass drug administration for malaria and the development of a vaccine against Ebola. These experiences perhaps put in place an infrastructure allowing a swift response to the current pandemic.
However, we know very little about how and where past experiences with epidemics have translated into effective government interventions curtailing disease outbreaks in Africa, as a systematic historical analysis of both disease process and interventions in Africa is lacking. The aim of this project is to map historical disease patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa 1850-1960, and explore how colonial governments have attempted interventions to curtail disease outbreaks. The project consists of two steps. Using largely unexplored primary sources for 24 former French British colonies in Africa, this research will be the first to map the spatial distribution of disease and disease-specific health interventions during the period 1850 – 1960. In a second step, the project builds on this database to analyze colonial governments’ efficacy in curtailing epidemic outbreaks in Africa in the past. This will shed new light on the effectiveness of government-led strategies to promote healthy lives for all, a top priority of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Effective start/end date2022/07/012027/06/23