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York historians launch book at World Health Organisation Assembly

Posted on 3 June 2014

Academics from the University of York’s Centre for Global Health Histories, housed within the Department of History, have launched a book on tropical diseases at the 67th World Health Organisation (WHO) Assembly in Geneva.

Tropical Diseases: Lessons from History, was launched as part of celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the WHO’s Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR). The book is edited by Dr Alexander Medcalf, Outreach Historian at York’s Centre for Global Health Histories, and Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Director of the Centre for Global Health Histories and Professor in the History of Medicine.

Based on the 2009 World Health Organisation Global Health Histories seminar series, the book is bilingual, in English and Portuguese. Intended to disseminate knowledge generated by these landmark seminars to a wider audience, it gathers articles on leprosy, guinea worm disease, sleeping sickness, river blindness, malaria, chagas disease, kala azar, tropical disease vectors, and essential and inessential medicines.

Introduced by TDR’s Director, Dr John Reeder, officials gathered at the event to celebrate the role of research in controlling major diseases. Guests included Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General of HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, Dr Be-Nazir Ahmed, the Directorate General of Health Services in Bangladesh, and Dr Uche Amazigo, the former Director of the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control, along with representatives from several Health Ministries and national missions.

The WHO ePORTUGUÊSe network, which aims to strengthen collaboration among Portuguese-speaking countries to facilitate access to health information, hosted a second launch for the book. Chaired by Dr Regina Ungerer, ePORTUGUÊSe Programme Coordinator, the event assembled delegates including Dr Jarbas Barbosa, Vice Minister of Health Surveillance at the Ministry of Health in Brazil, senior WHO officials and senior diplomats.

Dr Medcalf said: “The Global Health Histories seminars have proven very popular at the WHO and beyond and we are pleased to be able to extend the project messages to wider audiences through this new book.  We are very grateful to the many officials and academics who agreed not only to present at the original seminars, but also to contribute to this publication – it would not have been possible without their input. And a special mention should go to the Wellcome Trust for its support of the Global Health Histories project, which is now being embraced by several WHO Regional Offices.”

Professor Bhattacharya added: “Medical history and humanities have more than an ornamental location in global health. As the WHO Global Health Histories demonstrates, over the course of several years, rigorously and independently researched academic studies can stoke discussions that can flower into effective health communications and public engagement projects. Such work, which is based on information drawn from different levels of national governance and society, is important precisely as it is capable of creating wide-ranging alliances in public health. Multi-lingualism is rightly recognised as being a critical part of these activities, and we are honoured to be associated with WHO and government efforts to broaden to spread of health information in this way.”

A previously published book by the CGHH, the bilingual Tuberculosis: A Short History, also received attention at the Assembly as part of the WHO side event ‘Global strategy and targets for tuberculosis: prevent, care and control after 2015’. Convened by the Brazilian government and the WHO TB department, Dr Hooman Momen of the WHO Press introduced the project and copies were distributed to delegates. Throughout the assembly, a companion exhibition on tuberculosis was displayed in the main corridor at the UN Palais.

Dr Medcalf and Professor Bhattacharya now plan to host bilingual exhibitions based on Tropical Diseases in Lisbon and Rio, Brazil in 2014-15. This is part of a developing partnership between the University of York, the Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical in Portugal and Fiocruz in Brazil. These activities have been facilitated through Professor Bhattacharya’s Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award and additional funding from the University’s Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders, also supported by the Trust.

Further information:

-          For more information about the University of York’s Centre for Global Health Histories, part of the Department of History, visit:

-          CGHH have launched a downloadable PDF copy of Tropical Diseases: Lessons from History, available from the York Digital Library:

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