• Trial by Virus: Colonial Medicine and the 1883 Cholera in Egypt

    Christopher S. Rose (see profile)
    Digital Middle East & Islamic Studies, Global & Transnational Studies, History, History of Medicine in the Middle East/North Africa
    Cholera, Imperialism, Egypt
    Item Type:
    History of Medicine, colonial medicine, modern Egypt, british empire
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    This article explores how public health was transformed in Egypt soon after its occupation by Great Britain in 1882. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Egyptian state had invested substantially in health to boost the nation’s economic and military strength, and, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, to address European concerns about the potential for diseases to be transmitted along trade routes. In the process, a certain amount of negotiation was required with the Egyptian population regarding how treatment would be delivered, by whom, and where. The 1883 outbreak of cholera—one of the most feared diseases in the 19th century—provided the newly established Anglo-Egyptian government with an opportunity to restructure the public health infrastructure in Egypt in a way that reduced cost significantly (an important factor, given that Egypt was heavily indebted to British and French banks). The Anglo-Egyptian administration’s new policies were based on attitudes about what constituted modern medical practice, the appropriate relationship between medical provider and consumer, and the ways in which the consumer was expected to behave. I argue that this is a key moment of transition in which public health in Egypt came to bear the hallmarks of “colonial medicine,” a system that has been described throughout much of the colonized world, in which personal hygiene practices and the acceptance of medical care were seen as necessary markers of modernity and progress—even when such restrictions came at the expense of nearly fifty thousand Egyptian lives.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    11 months ago


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