Accepted paper:

Vaccines programmes and new vaccine introduction in India: a balance between its colonial history and modern public health goals


Swati Saxena (Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana)

Paper short abstract:

Infectious disease control is a matter of global concern and national interest. Indian vaccination programme is situated in the context of its colonial history of public health, and its modern aspirations as a nation that wants to emerge as a leader in low-cost innovative vaccine/health solutions.

Paper long abstract:

Vaccines, especially introduction of new ones are often see as silver bullets of technology, especially since the idea persists that science can be effectively used to address social problems like disease or poverty. Introduction of public health in India through the process of application of technology to address infectious disease control and sanitation began during colonial times. Medical interventions like vaccinations for smallpox became an example of biomedicine in a way that it understood people's health as a matter of public and state concern. Concerned by deaths due to tropical diseases, British promoted research and established about fifteen vaccine institutes beginning in the 1890s. When India gained independence, Indian nationalists sought to build the identity of the nation, including its medical systems, based on their own ideas of geography, people and welfare. The concept of national medicine in this respect may have tried to achieve a balance between colonial medicine and a more indigenous system. As India moves towards becoming a more 'modern' nation in terms of development indicators, especially health, improvements in health surveillance such as greater vaccine coverage and adoption of new and advanced combination vaccines serve as useful tools. While this 'technology transfer' has been critiqued for distortion of national health priorities, India's emergence as one of the major vaccine producers and the growth of its exports is also seen as a source of national pride. In this paper I explore how vaccine programme in India and introduction of new vaccines is located within these contesting claims.

panel A1
Decolonising health research for development