African Fever: A Study of British Science, Technology, and Politics in West Africa, 1787–1864
Carlson, Dennis G.
Few periods in the history of medicine have demonstrated the combination of adventure, glamour, and hardship to be found in records of the pioneers of tropical medicine during the age of European imperial expansion. Physicians, statisticians, and other scientists, especially from England, France, and Germany, made dramatic discoveries which made the colonial and military expansion of the time possible. Medical research, and the new health measures that followed, removed the major barriers which through the centuries had protected Africa from outside intrusion. First slavery, then commerce and trade accompanied by missionary evangelism provided the motivation which brought Europeans and Americans to the areas of sub-Sahara Africa which had previously been inhabited only by "natives." Epidemiological investigation superseded speculation about why the white man was more susceptible to local diseases.
West Africa became known as "the white man's grave," largely because of African fever. This volume fills an important gap in medical history by focusing on this aggregation of pathological entities and unravelling the strands of scientific enquiry that opened the doors of understanding about possible control measures. We have learned enough to protect the health of the elite and foreigners in West Africa. In reviewing progress in studying fevers, the author raises some important general questions; such as, why did it take so long to get general acceptance of the value of quinine as an effective curative and prophylactic measure? In the reisistance to this effective therapy, how important was the blocking effect of dogmatic thinking about the prior standard therapies such as bleeding and the use of toxic levels of mercury?