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Claude Barlow and the International Health Division’s Campaign to Eradicate Bilharzia (Schistosomiasis) in Egypt, 1929-1940November 26, 2019
Disease eradication has often been likened to a siren song; the task has an immediate allure and a deceptive ease, yet many efforts to master eradication have floundered. The International Health Commission first encountered bilharzia (schistosomiasis) while conducting some of the first hookworm campaigns outside of the American South. While surveying the burden of hookworm in Egypt, staff stumbled across the true scale of schistosome fluke infection across the country. The Rockefeller Foundation's International Health Division returned to Egypt in 1929 and commenced an eleven-year eradication campaign overseen by parasitologists Claude Barlow and J. Allen Scott. What began as a seemingly simple mission to evaluate the success of sanitation interventions in rural villages soon became a complex and fraught program pitting both men against each other, local opinion, and the orthodoxies of international public health experts. In this research report, reflecting on one part of my wider research on the history of eradication thinking in public health, I focus on the important work of Barlow and overview significant aspects of his collected written communication held in the Rockefeller Archive Center. Beginning as an optimistic advocate of eradication, Barlow's experiences in Egypt transformed his views on the likelihood of elimination and – in important ways – foreshadows the ethical, socio-political, and technical limits currently emerging around contemporary philanthropic drives to eradicate infectious diseases.
Wheat is one of the world's most important crops, source of almost a fifth of the world's calories. The Rockefeller Foundation has played a major role in wheat development, through its agricultural program of research, technical assistance, and educational extension. This work began with the foundation's support for the Mexican Agricultural Program in 1943, which later developed into the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). Over the following two decades, the foundation expanded its wheat program in South America, South Asia, and the Middle East. Yet while a number of scholars have examined the impacts of this work on wheat cultivation in Mexico and South Asia, little scholarship has looked at how this influence spread to the Middle East (with the exception of some work on Turkey.)
In 1990, feminists and doctors hailed the long-term birth control device, Norplant, as the greatest advancement in birth control technology since the 1960s. By 2002, in response to an avalanche of feminist criticism and over 200 class action lawsuits, Norplant's distributor removed the contraceptive device from the U.S. market. My research, the first historical study of the drug, links the politics of Norplant to the expansion of feminism, the politicization of class action lawsuits, and the rise of neoliberalism in the 1990s.
In 1908, when James Henry Breasted published ancient copies of some Biblical texts, he hoped that one interested reader would be Booker T. Washington. Breasted wrote to Washington to bring the matter to his attention, providing him with a copy of the article and explaining its general content. At that time, Washington was preoccupied with the aftermath of an injustice done to black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, and the subsequent refusal of Theodore Roosevelt, whom Washington had formerly advised, to undo the damage to the men's reputations, careers, and futures. Nonetheless, Washington replied to Breasted the following week, expressing his polite interest in the matter and noting that although he had not had the time to acquaint himself with the ancient history of Ethiopia, he noted that many West African traditions traced their cultural heritage to "a distant place in the direction of ancient Ethiopia." Washington wondered if that "distant place" and the subject matter of Breasted's article could be one and the same. "Could it be possible that these civilizing influences had their sources in this ancient Ethiopian kingdom to which your article refers?" If Washington saw ancient "Ethiopia," that is, the southern Nile River Valley, also known as the Upper Nile, Nubia, and in contemporary political designation the Sudan, as the source of other African people's culture, Breasted would have concurred.
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