There has been a surge of interest in the history of colonial public health of Haiti. This body of recent scholarship has shed light on the general construction of US colonial public health, humanitarianism during the US occupation, yaws/treponematosis control campaigns, and hegemony. While it is generally understood that the treatment of treponematosis played an outsized role in the performance of enlightened US medical modernity, what is less well described is how treponematosis became the central target of US and Rockefeller Foundation efforts to solidify the legitimacy of the US colonial state. This report will argue that there existed a wide variety of infectious diseases, some of which the US occupation believed that they could treat or eradicate, including smallpox, intestinal protozoa, dysentery, malaria, hookworm disease, and treponematosis. As a result of several material and pragmatic concerns, treponematosis became the central focus of the US occupation. With regard to the prioritization of treponematosis, the operations of the Public Health Service in Haiti can be divided into at least two periods, the first spanning from the formation of the Public Health Service in 1919 to the initiation in 1924 of the General Disease and Sanitary Survey of Haiti. The second period spans from 1925, at the end of the Survey of Haiti, to the beginning of 1930, when the Public Health Service began to be dismantled and the US influence began to wane. The first period had a more general concern with public health in Haiti, while the second period became acutely focused on eradication and treatment of treponematosis. Understanding how treponematosis came to be a priority requires understanding its social significance for both the US occupation and the Haitians communities afflicted by it. This paper will argue that treponematosis had widespread symbolic significance within Haiti. Together with its relative ease of treatment, diagnosis, and evidence of success, this disease was selected by the US occupation for eradication because it was believed that it would most clearly demonstrate the superiority of US biomedicine and culture.
The Role of the Rockefeller Foundation in the Origins of Treponematosis Control in Haiti, 1915-1927
Jan 20, 2021