Research School for Economic and Social History


Swedish Research Council awards grant to Dr Daniel Gallardo and Professor Jutta Bolt

Dr Daniel Gallardo Albarrán (Wageningen UR) and Professor Jutta Bolt (University of Groningen and Lund University) were awarded a research grant of c. 400,000 euro by the Swedish Research Council for their project proposal ‘Unhealthy development: the origins of health inequalities in Sub-Saharan Africa, 1900-1960’. Co-applicant was Dr Jeanne Cillier of Lund University.

Millions of deaths occur each year from preventable diseases. Most of these deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa (henceforth Africa), where many citizens still lack access to basic sanitation and healthcare. In 2015, there were on average only 1.35 hospital beds available per 1,000 people on the continent, and only 24 % of the population had access to clean drinking water. At the same time, variation between countries is immense: Zambia, for example, has more than 4 times the number of hospital beds per population than Benin; and in the Gambia twice as many people have access to basic sanitation services compared to Burkina Faso. The historical roots of these low health-related investments in Africa have long been recognized, yet little care has been taken to understand and explain the differential spread of healthcare across the continent.

The objective of this project is to investigate the uneven establishment of healthcare and sanitation in colonial Africa, ca 1900-1960. Using largely unexplored primary sources for both former British and French colonies, this research will map and explain the spatial and temporal distribution of healthcare and sanitation infrastructures during the first half of the 20th century, when state-funded healthcare was established on the continent. The project will provide the first-ever comprehensive empirical account of healthcare interventions and outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa before 1960, thus filling a substantial knowledge gap in comparative studies of historical health inequality.