Back to overview

History of health systems in Africa: Swiss mission hospitals and rural health delivery in the 20th century

Applicant Harries Patrick
Number 120698
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
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 01.05.2008 - 31.12.2011
Approved amount 444'695.00
Show all

Keywords (11)

Health Systems History; Swiss Missions; Medical Mission; Medical Anthropology; Colonianism; Decolonization; Colonialism; Non-Governmental Organizations; Tanzania; South Africa; Ghana

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
Mission societies were the first - and for a long time the prime - providers of health services in rural areas. Rural health care in many African countries today relies on hospitals, clinics and dispensaries established by missionary societies. Yet the history of these institutions and their relationship to changing systems of healthcare and governance remain poorly understood. We also have little idea about mission hospitals as meeting grounds for metropolitan and local ideas about healing and its practice; nor do we have investigations of the different medical approaches that arose out of the specific experiences of medical practitioners in these institutions.This project will attempt to explain some of the successes and failures of missionary health care by comparing the history of medical services provided by various hospital complexes founded by three Swiss missionary societies in rural parts of Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania. While these different examples provide entry into the history of a rich diversity of health systems in Africa, they are held together by a common medical experience rooted in Switzerland. Based on this comparative framework we aim to compare these developments in such a way as to draw conclusions on the broader framework of the history of health systems in Africa. Our major aim is to examine the contribution of Swiss medical institutions to the development of health care systems in Africa and to the formulation of health policies in developing countries in general. At the same time, our research will also reflect on the influence of this experience on the history of medicine in Switzerland. Our ultimate aim is to show how history can contribute to the development of sustainable health systems. The study will apply the methodologies of History, Social Anthropology and Epidemiology to an examination of the effects of political, economic, social and cultural changes on disease and health environments. This interdisciplinary approach will ensure that not only aspects neglected by historical works on health in Africa will be covered, but also that developments described by studies relying on statistical methods will be enriched by a thorough historical examination. By looking at both textual and oral Swiss missionary sources we make use of a rich body of under-researched material, which will be completed by written and oral sources as well as by statistical data drawn from various areas.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



’Wer möchte da nicht krank sein in den sorglichen Armen von Schwester M. ...’: Schweizer Ordensschwestern und der Wandel von Fürsorge- und Pflegeidealen in Ostafrika 1920-1990
Dreier Marcel (2011), ’Wer möchte da nicht krank sein in den sorglichen Armen von Schwester M. ...’: Schweizer Ordensschwestern und der Wandel von Fürsorge- und Pflegeidealen in Ostafrika 1920-1990, in Kozon, Seidl, Walter (ed.), ÖGVP, Wien, 203-225.
Vom kolonialen Gesundheitswesen zum Gesundheitssystem für Arme
Dreier Marcel, Pascal Schmid (2010), Vom kolonialen Gesundheitswesen zum Gesundheitssystem für Arme, in Afrika Bulletin, 139, 8-9.
Digby/Phillips/Deacon/Thomson: At the Heart of Healing. Groote Schuur Hospital 1938-2008
Dreier Marcel (2009), Digby/Phillips/Deacon/Thomson: At the Heart of Healing. Groote Schuur Hospital 1938-2008, in Gesnerus, 66(2), 309-310.
Histoire de l’hôpital en Afrique
Mabika Hines (2009), Histoire de l’hôpital en Afrique, in Médicine Tropicale, 69(1), 26-26.

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Poster Marcel Dreier + Pascal Schmid: History of Health & Health Care Delivery Systems in Africa German-speaking Switzerland 08.02.2010