Epidemics, Medicine, and Society in Modern Latin America
Conference on Latin American History 16
Abstract: This panel brings together scholars working on the history of epidemics and public health in modern Latin America. Each of the papers addresses how various actors, from state institutions to myriad individuals, have confronted the pressures posed by a public health crisis. The first paper examines the role of Chinese herbal medicine in a nineteenth-century yellow fever epidemic in Peru. The author argues that clandestine networks of ex-coolie herbalists simultaneously aided in the consolidation of the national health system and encouraged the acceptance of Chinese practitioners within that system. The second paper analyzes the Bolivian government’s smallpox eradication campaign of the late 1950s, which combined the practical necessity of vaccinating the population against a common disease with the political objective of consolidating the authority of the revolutionary state. The third paper traces the Mexican experience with the global flu pandemic of 1918, which posed a fundamental test of the legitimacy and responsiveness of a shaky revolutionary government. The fourth paper examines work-related eye injuries, demonstrating how ophthalmologists, by combining actuarial and scientific analysis, aided a political movement for the blind in Argentina.