After World War II, French officials viewed health improvements as a way to forge a more equitable union between France and its overseas territories. Through new hospitals, better medicines, and improved public health, French subjects could reimagine themselves as French citizens. The politics of health also proved vital to the United Nations, however, and conflicts arose when French officials perceived international development programs sponsored by the UN as a threat to their colonial authority. French diplomats also feared that anticolonial delegations to the United Nations would use shortcomings in health, education, and social development to expose the broader structures of colonial inequality. In the face of mounting criticism, they did what they could to keep UN agencies and international health personnel out of Africa, limiting the access Africans had to global health programs. French personnel marginalized their African colleagues as they mapped out the continent’s sanitary future and negotiated the new rights and responsibilities of French citizenship. The health disparities that resulted offered compelling evidence that the imperial system of governance should come to an end.
Pearson’s work links health and medicine to postwar debates over sovereignty, empire, and human rights in the developing world. The consequences of putting politics above public health continue to play out in constraints placed on international health organizations half a century later.
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Table of Contents
1 War, Citizenship, and the Limits of French Civilization 20
2 The United Nations and the Politics of Health 44
3 Between Colonial Knowledge and International Expertise 67
4 The World Health Organization Comes to Brazzaville 89
5 Family Health, France, and the Future of Africa 113
6 Fighting Illness, Battling Decolonization 141