Brown Bag Lecture: Making Public Health Commodities and Global Health Science in Africa: The Early History of Pyrethroid-Treated Nets

Lunchtime Lectures
Monday, November 14, 2016
12:00 p.m.
Chemical Heritage Foundation
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a talk with Kirsten Moore-Sheeley, one of our 2016–2017 Haas Fellows.

In the 1980s the World Health Organization and collaborating scientists began investigating the use of pyrethroid-treated mosquito nets for malaria control in Africa. These cheap, low-tech tools, researchers felt, might reduce individuals’ risk for infection by limiting man-mosquito contact. However, scientific investigations of insecticide-treated nets in Africa were not simply matters of chemicals, fibers, mosquitoes, and malaria. Research teams, rather, designed studies to demonstrate the value of these nets as health commodities, which (ideally) people would purchase and use for personal protection. Calculations of cost-effectiveness and questionnaires about people’s willingness to purchase nets and insecticide for a certain price were integral to scientific demonstrations of the efficacy of insecticide-treated nets. At the same time, scientific knowledge about the ecological and biomedical effects of treated nets became embedded in their identity and value as public health commodities. As knowledge of these effects changed, so too did arguments about whether insecticide-treated nets should be public, private, or mixed public-private goods. This presentation examines the history of insecticide-treated net research in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s to see how international health experts’ imaginaries of private-sector public health informed these scientific inquiries. In the process of making insecticide-treated nets into scientifically based, biomedical commodities, it argues, malaria researchers and their institutional sponsors engaged in and helped shape an emerging regime of global health science.

Kirsten Moore-Sheeley earned her BA in history at Chapman University (2011) and a Certificate in Global Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2014). She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Johns Hopkins History of Medicine Department. She is working on a dissertation that tracks the history of insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) in Africa from the 1980s to the present, focusing on the experiences of Kenya in particular. More broadly, Kirsten is interested in the history of disease control, biomedical research, and public-health technologies in East Africa. She is also interested in how public-health strategies, definitions of poverty, and practices of impoverished communities mutually shape each other.