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International and Global Health (Chris Sirrs)

This seminar examines the roles played by international organisations in promoting public health in countries around the world. It explores the transition from a model of ‘international health’ in the early and mid-twentieth century, which promoted cooperation between countries in public health, to a wider and more diverse model of ‘global health’ in the late twentieth century in which a broader range of actors were involved. We will explore how geopolitical considerations shaped the roles played by these agencies; how colonial and post-colonial frameworks of power influenced the health of people in the ‘global South’; and various different models of promoting health promulgated by agencies based in the ‘global North’.



Seminar questions


  1. What is meant by the terms ‘global South’ and ‘global North’? To what extent are these terms useful for understanding the history of international and global health?
  2. Why have nation states, international agencies and philanthropic organisations based in the ‘global North’ been interested in the public health of peoples in the ‘global South’?
  3. What are the key differences between ‘international’ and ‘global’ health? In this regard, how did the role and influence of the World Health Organisation (WHO) change over the second half of the twentieth century?
  4. What are the key ways in which international organisations have attempted to promote public health in countries around the world? What does the success or failure of major campaigns, interventions and models tell us about the politics of international and global health?



Required readings


At minimum, read the first four articles from the journals AJPH and Medical Anthropology. The whole of Randall Packard’s book is useful for understanding the history of global health, but Part 4 is especially helpful for understanding the success and failure of two key initiatives in the second half of the twentieth century.



Theodore M. Brown, Marcos Cueto, and Elizabeth Fee, ‘The World Health Organization and the Transition From “International” to “Global” Public Health’, American Journal of Public Health 96, no. 1 (1 January 2006): 62–72,


Marcos Cueto, ‘The Origins of Primary Health Care and Selective Primary Health Care’, American Journal of Public Health 94, no. 11 (1 November 2004): 1864–74,


Martin Gorsky and Christopher Sirrs, ‘The Rise and Fall of “Universal Health Coverage” as a Goal of International Health Politics, 1925–1952’, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 3 (18 January 2018): 334–42,


Randall M. Packard, ‘Malaria Dreams: Postwar Visions of Health and Development in the Third World’, Medical Anthropology 17, no. 3 (May 1997): 279–96,


Randall M. Packard, A History of Global Health: Interventions into the Lives of Other Peoples (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), Part 4 (chapters 7 & 8).



Further readings



On global health (general):


Chelsea Clinton and Devi Lalita Sridhar, Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017)


Randall M. Packard, A History of Global Health: Interventions into the Lives of Other Peoples (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).



On the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization (PAHO):


Marcos Cueto, Theodore M. Brown, and Elizabeth Fee, The World Health Organization: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).


Nitsan Chorev, The World Health Organization between North and South (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012


Marcos Cueto, The Value of Health: A History of the Pan American Health Organization (Washington, D.C.: PAHO, 2007).



On the World Bank:


Devi Sridhar, Janelle Winters, and Eleanor Strong, ‘World Bank’s Financing, Priorities, and Lending Structures for Global Health’, BMJ, 31 August 2017, j3339,




On the International Labour Organisation (ILO):


Christopher Sirrs, ‘Promoting Health Protection Worldwide: The International Labour Organisation and Health Systems Financing, 1952–2012’, The International History Review 42, no, 2 (2019): 371–390,


On tropical and colonial medicine, and early international health:



Iris Borowy, Coming to Terms with World Health: The League of Nations Health Organisation 1921-1946 (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2009).


Martin D. Dubin, ‘The League of Nations Health Organization’, in International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918-1939, ed. Paul Weindling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).


John Farley, To Cast out Disease: A History of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (1913-1951) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).


David Hardiman, ed., Healing Bodies, Saving Souls: Medical Missions in Asia and Africa, Clio Medica 80 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006).


Mark Harrison, ‘Disease, Diplomacy and International Commerce: The Origins of International Sanitary Regulation in the Nineteenth Century’, Journal of Global History 1, no. 02 (July 2006): 197,


Michael Worboys, ‘The Colonial World as Mission and Mandate: Leprosy and Empire, 1900-1940’, Osiris 15 (January 2000): 207–18,