CGHH member awarded Rockefeller Foundation grant

Posted on 28 February 2013

CGHH Departmental member Dr Henrice Altink will use her recently awarded Rockefeller Foundation grant to research the control of tuberculosis in Jamaica

Dr Henrice Altink, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and Departmental Member of the Centre for Global Health Histories, has been awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant to pursue research on the control and treatment of tuberculosis in Jamaica c. 1918-1982.

From 1927 till 1941, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) ran a tuberculosis (TB) commission in Jamaica which carried out research into the epidemiology of the disease, examined the efficacy of a vaccine of heated-killed tubercle bacilli, and offered treatment to TB sufferers in TB dispensaries and a TB hospital. The archives of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York hold the correspondence between Dr. Opie, the head of the TB commission based in America, and several doctors – Jamaican and American – who carried out the research and the treatment on the ground. Dr Altink believes that this material – which includes diaries of some staff employed by the commission; and miscellaneous reports and papers - might shed light on her project’s main question:  why was TB not, like in many other countries, universalized as a public health problem?

Dr Altink writes; “Based on a wide range of published and unpublished material located in archives and libraries in the UK, Jamaica, North America and Switzerland and also oral interviews, my project will show that while the Jamaican government incorporated many of the suggestions made by the RF’s TB commission, such as adding TB wards to rural hospitals, and although it adopted many other methods to control the disease after the commission’s departure, including a mass vaccination campaign, it failed throughout the period to define TB as a public health problem. It will argue that the island’s status as a colony within the British Empire largely explains why until 1962 TB remained a clinical problem in Jamaica. The Crown Colony government system that was in place till 1944 and the semi-responsible government that followed it discouraged the spending of large sums on medical services, housing and other forms of social welfare necessary to eradicate TB. In addition, it will suggest that it was not just financial circumstances and a shortage of medical staff that prevented the Jamaican government in the twenty years after independence to universalize TB as a public health problem, but also its failure to reorganize the medical services.”

We at the Centre for Global Health Histories wish to congratulate Dr Altink on her success, and look forward to hearing the results of the research.

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