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Accepted Paper:

The NTDs as an operative and imaginative category in global health: histories and futures, 1970-present  


Mari Webel (University of Pittsburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the emergence of the NTDs as an operative and imaginative category in global health, focusing on its intellectual and institutional development in the 1970s and subsequent clinical and diagnostic interventions in the 1980s, connecting this history to the present initiatives.

Paper long abstract:

The NTD category has become central to current global health practice, meaningful for the weight of its moral and ethical arguments about health equity and economic disparities. Yet we have little historical perspective on the development of the NTD category since its advent in the 1970s, nor of its wider impacts, despite robust scholarship in critical studies of global health. Just as the diseases comprising the NTDs have changed over time, so, too, have understandings of “neglect” and what was needed for its amelioration also shifted. Central to the NTDs’ initial capacity to animate diverse energies were claims in the 1970s about parasitic diseases and their place in new biotechnological approaches to medicine. Despite concerns about prioritizing the needs of “endemic” countries and the recognition of a widening cohort of experts from both high- and low-income nations, NTD advocates often recapitulated historic power dynamics privileging research institutions in the U.S. and Europe. But advocates and researchers also resisted prevailing enthusiasm in medicine and public health for only low-tech solutions to parasitic diseases, or exclusively social or environmental approaches, seeking instead cutting-edge possibilities akin to those for cancer or cardiovascular disease. Historical research suggests that the capacious utility of the NTD category drove innovation, while also reinforcing structures of global health disparities. How might understanding the unresolved tensions around research, funding, and implementation in the category’s history offer traction for thinking about the role of critical social science researchers in the present and future of NTD interventions?

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Anthropology at a crossroads: neglected tropical diseases and the future of our discipline