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Decolonizing Medicine in Africa and its Diaspora

Medicine in Africa and the diaspora continues to be dominated by theories, narratives, and archives that reinforce the belief that modern medicine is external to Africa. A legacy of Eurocentric scholarship has generated the misconception that medicine was gifted to Africans by pious missionaries, granted to Africans in the form of colonial medicine, and sustained through the benefaction of foreign agencies like Médecins Sans Frontier, UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the Gates Foundation. There is not a single modern African medical professional mentioned in the major contemporary accounts of the history of medicine (Porter, 1997; Gonzalez-Crussi, 2007; Bynum, 2008; Duffin, 2008; Manger & Kim, 2018). Worse still, many histories of tropical medicine, which are mostly about campaigns in Africa, also exclude mention of black medical expertise (Delaporte, 1991; Goerg 1997; Cook, 2007). The imbalance of this narrative is so severe that it delegitimizes medical practice as an acceptable form of healing and care in Africa and disables the future work of Africans in the global field of medicine (Fanon 1961; Farmer 2008). As a type of discursive violence, European claims to medical heritage silence the roles, agency and contributions of Africans who have produced, and continue to produce, research on key medical problems.

This conference aims to redress this inequity by recovering the roles that Africans played in the field of medicine during the modern era and into the 21st century. For centuries, Africans have been conducting research on ailments using innovative tools and techniques to produce data on illnesses, and they have also managed medical health care systems and institutions under racialized colonial conditions, and equally challenging neo-colonial situations (Patton, 1996; Oduntan, 2018; Roberts 2021).

We invite all scholars from any career stage, from around the world, interested in speaking to these questions to participate in this conference. We are particularly interested in scholarship that explores interdisciplinary/ methodological approaches that overcome the dominance of Eurocentrism in modern medicine and can thereby recover the roles that Africans played in medical sciences, practice, technology, education, policy, and public health.

Questions that participants may pose include:

  • What roles did people of African descent play in the medical transitions of modern era, in particular the 19th century transition to laboratory and scientific medicine?
  • What barriers did people of African descent face when participating in fields of tropical and modern medicine, and how did African and African Diaspora medical professionals overcome them?
  • What might be learned from the biographies and professional development of African medical personnel as responded to racialist exclusion, and medical inequalities.
  • What roles did Africans play in the development of national health care systems?
  • What medical theories and innovations may be credited to people of African descent?
  • What are the potentials and constraints of decolonizing the history of modern medicine?
  • How did flow of medical ideas and innovations involve Africans and initiate modern professional medicine as distinct from other healing practices?
  • What connections existed in the African Diaspora as they evolved, survived, and thrived as medical practitioners.
  • In sum, how might medicine deracialized and decolonized?


Please send a 200-word abstract of your proposed paper with a brief biography to jonathan.roberts@msvu.ca and ooduntan@towson.edu by March 15, 2023, Responses will be given by April 1, 2023. Presentation slots are 15 minutes long, followed by discussion.

A conference volume with selected papers is planned.


  • Jonathan Roberts (Associate Professor, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada)
  • Oluwatoyin Oduntan (Associate Professor, Towson University, USA)