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ICDPS fall seminar series unpacks complex global health histories

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

We are still living the COVID-19 pandemic, and scholarship regarding public health, drug history, and global health governance has become more important than ever. In light of recent global health crises, the International Center for Drug Policy Studies at Shanghai University organized a series of online seminars to discuss and understand the present situation in global health and drug regulations. ICDPS held the seminars during November and December of 2022, and invited scholars from around the world to share and discuss their research.

Posters from the first three seminars

The speaker for the first seminar, held on November 3, 2022, was Professor James Mills from the University of Strathclyde. His talk, titled ‘Cocaine markets in Colonial India: Industry, commerce and consumption, 1885 to 1911,’ was based on his research from the last seven years. It traced the arrival of cocaine in South Asia between 1885 and 1911 and asked several questions about the market regulation and supply of the substance. His paper also discussed how South Asian markets work in tandem with the global economy, particularly from a post-colonial perspective. In the talk, Dr. Mills explained how the demand and supply system in colonial India made it possible for the cocaine market to flourish. Comments and discussion by Professor Yong-an Zhang, Dr. Huang Yun, and Dr. Arnab Chakraborty followed up his talk.

The second seminar on the series was held on November 10, 2022, and Dr. Khalid Tinasti from the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute of Geneva shared about his paper, titled ‘The recent history of governance of the international drug control regime and its different Dimensions.’ Dr. Tinasti touched upon contemporary drug policy around the world. His paper emphasized reports published by various drug control organizations globally and further analysed the involvement of Geneva-based international mandates on health, HIV and human rights. He introduced attendees to the diplomatic advocacy that built the momentum for a larger scope around drug control at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session in 2016. This lecture also highlighted the current situation of international drug control after a decade of negotiations at the U.N. level. Overall, Dr. Tinasti’s talk highlighted the current plan of action in terms of international collaboration and how U.N. bodies can effectively work towards finding a solution to the drug problems. This event had Professor Yong-an Zhang, the director of the ICDPS, and Dr. Yun Huang as discussants.

The third event on this series was a book talk by Patrick Chiu, the president of the Hong Kong Society for the History of Pharmacy, held on November 16, 2022. His talk, on his recently published book titled ‘Transformation from King of “Opium Cures” to Global Health and Beauty Retailer — AS Watsons’ was presented bi-lingually — the talk was in Chinese and the PowerPoint was in English. In this talk, Mr. Chiu provided a thorough history of the AS Watsons, a world-famous beauty retailer, and examined how they became such an influential corporation in Asia. At present, AS Watsons operates over 16,300 retail stores worldwide and holds brands such as Superdrug, Savers, The Perfume Shop, and ParknShop. This event had Professor Yong-an Zhang, Dr. Jian Shu, and Dr. Arnab Chakraborty as discussants.

The next two seminars in this series focused on global and public health. The fourth seminar was held on November 17, 2022, and Dr. Robert Perrins, from the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani presented a micro-history analysis on ‘(Re)Constructing a Public Health ‘Crisis’ on the Edge of Empires: Negotiating Sanitation in the Manchurian Border City of Andong.’ This talk described sanitation issues in the Manchurian border city of Andong, and Dr. Perrins shared his collection of letters from the archives. The communications he shared between the colonial officials and their Japanese counterparts don’t just chart a lonely American’s descent into sanitary mania (or being too conscious about health and hygiene), but they also illustrate how the Japanese colonial empire’s structure and functions impacted public health in northeast Asia. This seminar had Professors Yun Xia and Janaka Jayawickrama as discussants and the conversation flowed from the Japanese Empire to the history of colonialism in other parts of the world and similar public health crises. Dr. Perrins highlighted in his talk how important micro-histories are to addressing bigger questions, particularly in global colonial contexts.

Posters for the final three seminars

On November 24, 2022, Dr. Alex Mold from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shared her insights on ‘The public speaks back: health communication in Britain, 1980s-2020s’ based on her current research. Dr. Mold spoke about how important it is to engage the public in issues related to health, particularly around the Covid-19 pandemic. She spoke about her research on the changes British public health campaigns went through as officials began listening to public opinion over the last 10 years. Professors Yong-an Zhang and Janaka Jayawickwama were joined by Dr. Yun Huang as discussants after the talk. Participants discussed the importance of how different countries approach public engagement in public health. The discussion touched upon briefly on how the South Asian countries handled the outbreak of Covid, and how public involvement differed in these countries. Dr. Mold explained in this seminar that more attempts to involve the public in public health might have avoided the problems that the U.K. faced with health messaging.

The penultimate talk as part of this seminar series was delivered by Professor Dora Vargha from the University of Exeter on December 1, 2022. Professor Vargha’s talk was titled ‘Socialist medicine: the history of global health from the socialist world’s perspective.’ She argued that socialist networks of international solidarity and collectivity have shaped health care systems, pharmaceutical manufacturing and knowledge networks in ways that have been rendered invisible in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rise of neoliberal frameworks, and the HIV epidemic animated the rise of global health initiatives driven by “the West.” Professors Yong-an Zhang, Iris Borowy, and Janaka Jayawickrama, along with Dr. Yun Huang, were discussants for this seminar.

The final talk was delivered by Dr. Lu Chen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Exeter, and titled ‘Democratizing Histories of International Health: Smallpox Eradication in Western Pacific Region.’ This paper argued that scholars should look beyond West-centric knowledge to understand the eradication of Smallpox. Using materials collected from WHO archives, Dr. Chen explained how some newly independent countries in the Western Pacific region have a diverse and important history to share about their roles in the eradication program. She emphasized that the erstwhile colonial countries in the Western Pacific region had already attained a complete removal of Smallpox even before the so-called eradication program of the WHO or the European countries had begun. We had professors Yong-an Zhang, Changyong Yang, and Dr. Arnab Chakraborty as discussants, while the seminar was moderated by Dr. Huang Yun. The highlight of this talk was to question the established norm in the history of eradication and raise questions about different regions (such as the Western Pacific region, in this case) that do not receive as much attention as mainland Europe or the U.S.

The seven seminars organized by the Shanghai University College of Liberal Arts in Fall 2022 unpacked the complex nature of global health in historical as well as contemporary contexts. These events were broadcasted globally, and many people from various parts of the world joined the discussion as audience members. The ICDPS is thankful to Professor Changyong Yang for helping design posters for the talks, and for his technical help. The responsibility of moderating this Fall 2022 seminar series was shared by Dr. Huang Yun and Dr. Arnab Chakraborty.



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