Public Health -- Africa -- History, Medicine -- Africa -- History, History of medicine -- Africa


As a continent, Africa has been explored, exploited, and largely abandoned by the West. During the colonial era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, foreign powers encountered diverse cultures, superstitions and disease before promptly labeling the entire continent a dangerous and primitive place. For early explorers and colonialists, disease and the threat of ill health is what defined Africa. They overlooked the pre-existing strategies and practices that Africans had adapted to guard against certain diseases, either ignoring them or labeling the misunderstood safety nets as primitive. Also overlooked was the importance of societal organization and communal cooperation among kin groups in the realms of health and economy. A false assumption of the continent as backwards and diseased spread among those living in the first world, and this legacy of thought is still in existence today. The history of health and healing in Africa is one of social ties and family economics, emphasizing the importance of kinship and community cooperation. While much of this essay focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries, it is of note that in certain areas, such as the Cape Town colony of South Africa, colonial interference extends back as early as the 16th century. During and after the colonial period, many of the important values and safety nets that had previously upheld the health and healing processes of Africans were renegotiated or abandoned, leaving behind the continued yet misperceived notion of Africa as a continent continuously riddled with disease.



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