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The history of the hospital as a biomedical and social institution in Africa, with special reference to the Swiss mission and South African experiences

English title The history of the hospital as a biomedical and social institution in Africa, with special reference to the Swiss mission and South African experiences
Applicant Harries Patrick
Number 117085
Funding scheme International Exploratory Workshops
Research institution Departement Geschichte Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.11.2007 - 29.02.2008
Approved amount 13'300.00
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All Disciplines (3)

General history (without pre-and early history)
Public Health and Health Services
Swiss history

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
The history of health systems and medical institutions in Africa has received little attention from scholars in Switzerland, South Africa or other countries. Hospitals have rarely been studied by historians, either as institutions in their own right or as ‘characteristic products of the society that nurtured them.’ Healthcare practioners, policymakers and administrators in Africa have little knowledge of the history of the organization, administration and operation of their hospitals and clinics, and few are aware of how such perspectives might enhance their grasp of current situations. They have little information on the ways in which biomedicine expanded in deep rural areas despite severely restricted budgets, of the changing disease patterns it confronted, or of how it interacted with traditional medical systems. Nor are they aware of the history of the relationship between the activities of their institutions and the wider political systems in which they operate. The connection between diseases and their changing geographical and social environments now and in the past is often lost on doctors working under difficult conditions. To a large extent historians of Africa share this ignorance, for they have rarely factored human health, disease and medicine into their attempts to comprehend the past. Paradoxically, they often know more about the health of animals than of their own species. The prime purpose of the collaborative programme between Swiss and South African scholars that we propose below is to address this gap in the historical literature. Hospital history, conceived of as more than a narrow, inward-looking institutional history, is of relatively recent origin. In sub-Saharan Africa it is even more novel, with historians in South Africa having embarked on histories of two major hospitals in their regions only within the last two years. At the University of Cape Town (UCT) they focus on the history of Groote Schuur Hospital and at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) on the McCord Hospital in Durban. In Switzerland a team of doctoral students is beginning to explore the history of hospitals in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana and Cameroon, all of which started as mission hospitals run by Swiss doctors. The research of the Swiss team rests largely on the extraordinarily rich sources in the archives of missionary societies in Basel and Lausanne, as well as on interviews with retired mission doctors in Switzerland. The Swiss team works closely with researchers at the Swiss Tropical Institute in Basel and with historians of science and medicine at the universities of Basel and Zurich.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

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