• Department of Anthropology, University of Oslo
  • Abstract Title: Covid-19, HIV and the Layers of African epidemy

Bio: Paul Wenzel Geissler teaches social anthropology at the University of Oslo. He is particularly interested in 20th-century medicine and science in Africa, working across the boundary of anthropology and history. Among his books are The Land is Dying (Berghahn, 2011) with Prince, and Para-states and Medical Science (Duke, 2015). Together with Lachenal, Manton and Tousignant, he co-curated Traces of the Future. An archaeology of medical science in Africa (Intellect, 2016). https://www.sv.uio.no/sai/english/people/aca/paulwg/

Abstract: After the “end of disease” (Dora Vargha) comes yet another disease. Epidemic narratives in 20th-century Africa are woven into a modernist epos of dramatic outbreaks and heroic struggles to control them. HIV/AIDS is part of a steady succession of African epidemics and anti-epidemic campaigns, preceded by infections like jaws and sleeping sickness, river blindness and malaria, and followed by chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The latest intruder, Covid-19, arrived to Kenya from Europe (neatly inverting familiar narratives of African contagious threats), just when the HIV epidemic crisis had morphed into one of several ‘emerging’ chronic diseases, including cancer, which has been described as a new African epidemic. We are interested in the traces that HIV has left behind, and how they relate to present and future epidemics, e.g.: clinical infrastructures and pharmaceutical residuals, technical equipment or mutated viruses, patient and community-based organisations and policies, specialised technical expertise and new professional cadres, graves and land-use patterns, identities, relations and collectivities. What is left behind after HIV and HIV intervention and experimentation, and what life (and disease) might spring from these remains? We discuss some of these epidemic and anti-epidemic layers, connections and ruptures, based on fieldwork in Western Kenya in the spring of 2020, at the onset of Covid-19.

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