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Decolonisation, Development and Disease: A Social History of Malaria in Sri Lanka

By Professor Kalinga Tudor Silva

Sri Lanka has reportedly achieved the historic feat of eliminating malaria. However, history reminds us that malaria can strike back with full force following spectacular successes in “eradicating” the disease. It is important to understand the political and social factors that paved the way for resurgence of this disease in the past.

Decolonisation, Development and Disease looks at the relationship between malaria and its social, political and environmental milieu in Sri Lanka over an 80-year period from 1930 to 2010.The volume begins with an ethno-historical account of the accumulated body of indigenous knowledge, and practices and cultural adaptation to fevers and how they saw a rapid decline with the arrival of Western medicine.

The politics of the devastating malaria epidemic of 1934–35 that shaped Sri Lanka’s transition from a colony to a postcolonial state and the 1967 resurgence of malaria challenging the developmental push of the postcolonial state form the crux of the discussion. The book also examines the manner in which the civil war triggered yet another outbreak of malaria.

The author looks at colonial records, government statistics, oral history, ethnographies and newspaper articles through the lenses of postcolonial studies and post-development discourse analysis. He challenges the conventional modernist wisdom on the role of tropical medicine in combating disease and points to the historical embeddedness of tropical disease and its control.

This book will be of interest to students of history, politics, development, public health, medical anthropology and Sri Lankan society.

Kalinga Tudor Silva is Senior Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka