Brazilian Probes, African Pills: History and Resistance in Global Health

by Ari Samsky

Jan 1, 2013
In 1988 the CEO of a major international pharmaceutical firm held a press conference to announce that his corporation would provide the drug Mectizan free of charge for the treatment of onchocerciasis, a blinding tropical disease sometimes called river blindness. People who suffer from river blindness are almost always poor, and the parasite that causes the disease lives mostly in Africa. In the subsequent years the donation program has prospered, and it has taken a central place in the international professional imagination of global health. The Mectizan donation has become a symbol and a case study for a number of new "forms of life," in the Wittgenstein sense: the public-private partnership, the mass drug administration, and a peculiar, new kind of public health intervention that shrugs its way between boundaries, ignoring, subverting, or making irrelevant older ideas of the "publics" involved in public health, the articulation between the corporation and the state, and the concept of health itself.
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