History of global health: The African perspective
Written by Morayo Akinrogunde, a Clinical Pharmacist , 8th October 2020
Global health is a broad concept that has played a significant role in all parts of the world with the predominant aim to improve the healthcare ecosystem. The African continent has a long history with various global health initiatives to better its healthcare narrative. For example, numerous international and non-governmental organisations, healthcare programs as well as African governments have all undertaken different projects over the past several centuries. In this article we take a deep dive into major events that have shaped the impact of global health as we know it on the continent to date.
The colonial predecessor to global health in Africa
During Europe’s scramble for Africa starting in the 16th and 17th century, countries such as Great Britain, France and Spain formed colonies, that exposed colonisers to new diseases and harsh conditions. This encounter with new infectious diseases consequently led to severe devastation. For example, British colonists who had arrived in Ghana (formerly Gold Coast) had a death rate of approximately 300–700 per 1000 in their first year of the colony (1). These experiences led to the development of tropical medicine as Europeans found their own medical knowledge inadequate to implement sufficient infection control (2).
Through tropical medicine, European colonial powers sought new ways to understand and control the major diseases present in their colonies. This was achieved by investing in biomedical research, applying new ideas and running campaigns to treat tuberculosis, leprosy, yellow fever amongst other illnesses (3). During this period, European medical missionaries also set up clinics to offer primary medical care in rural and urban areas. The main focus for these missions was to introduce Africans to Western culture and replacing traditional healers in order to convert the native population to Christianity (4,5).
World Health Organization and the upsurge of NGOs
Due to the global economic depression in the 1930s and the Second World War, colonial medical structures were struggling to sustain a healthy financial model. In the aftermath of World War II, European empires began critical reappraisals of their responsibilities to promote programs of economic and social development in their African colonies. It was notably with the creation of the World Health…