Vivek Neelakantan

Ph.D. 

2018 to 2019
Research Fellow

Southeast Asia and the Beginnings of the Primary Health Paradigm, 1948-1978

Southeast Asia is central to the development of the Primary Health paradigm. This project investigates from a transnational perspective the ways in which international health was appropriated and transformed in Southeast Asia (1948-78). The implementation of health initiatives in the region, under the postcolonial state and international organisations, witnessed inner tensions between the notional magic bullet approach, and a holistic approach that linked public health to nation-building. The Alma Ata Conference on Primary Healthcare (1978) was preceded by the failure of the US-supported global malaria eradication program (1955-69). The US failure left the global health leadership open to the USSR, which showcased what its state-sponsored healthcare could accomplish for developing countries at the Conference. The study situates the evolution of the Primary Health paradigm in Southeast Asia within the context of the Cold War, and the development of WHO Regional Offices (1948-51). In doing so, it examines “paths not taken” in international health.