Malaria as an “Environmental” Disease

Welcome to a seminar with Melissa Graboyes from the University of Oregon, who will give a talk entitled, "Malaria as an “Environmental” Disease: African Vernacular Knowledge and Biomedical Conceptions in Zanzibar, 1950-2018".

The seminar is open to all, including bachelor and master students. No registration is required. After the seminar, drinks and snacks will be served in our lunchroom.

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Among biomedical researchers and global health practitioners, malaria is recognized to be a deeply environmental disease. This paper, which is part of a larger book projects, examines Swahili and biomedical conceptions of what makes malaria an environmental disease by focusing on the East African island of Zanzibar. Zanzibar is an ideal location for asking these questions due to its sustained engagement with international malaria elimination attempts over the past century. Since the early 1900s, the island has served as a natural laboratory for malaria control measures led by the British colonial government, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) the Gates Foundation, and many others.

An important goal of this paper is to consider African vernacular knowledge about what makes malaria an “environmental” disease with Swahili conceptions from the 1950s through the present. Preliminary findings based on fieldwork in Zanzibar and archival research in Europe and Africa indicate that Zanzibari vernacular knowledge challenges many biomedical epistemic frameworks. Examples are presented about how Zanzibari’s link malaria to the landscape, flora, and fauna in various ways, and how Swahili conceptions of the disease differ significantly from contemporary biomedical framings of what makes it “environmental.” These discrepancies have important implications for creating successful and appropriate malaria elimination and control campaigns today.

Melissa Graboyes is an Associate Professor of African History & Medical History at the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, USA. Her current book project is a history of malaria elimination attempts in Africa over the last century, which is funded by a 5-year National Science Foundation grant, and involves a half dozen undergraduate students in the project. Graboyes' research has an East African regional emphasis and employs a variety of historical and anthropological methods. She is particularly interested in making research findings accessible to the larger public, and serving as a bridge to translate academic findings to practitioners working in the field. Graboyes earned her Ph.D. in History and her Masters in Public Health with an emphasis on medical ethics, and has been working in East Africa for 15 years.

Published Aug. 19, 2019 8:52 AM - Last modified Aug. 19, 2019 8:52 AM