The Legacy of Colonial Medicine in Central Africa

78 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2018

Date Written: March 2018


Between 1921 and 1956, French colonial governments organized medical campaigns to treat and prevent sleeping sickness. Villagers were forcibly examined and injected with medications with severe, sometimes fatal, side effects. We digitized thirty years of archival records to document the locations of campaign visits at a granular geographic level for five central African countries. We find that greater historical exposure to the campaigns reduces trust in medicine - measured by willingness to consent to a free, non-invasive blood test. The resulting mistrust is specific to the medical sector. We examine relevance for present day health initiatives; we find that World Bank projects in the health sector are less successful in areas with greater exposure to the campaigns.

Keywords: Colonialism, Culture, health, medicine, Trust

JEL Classification: I15, I18, N37, O55, Z13

Suggested Citation

Lowes, Sara Rachel and Montero, Eduardo, The Legacy of Colonial Medicine in Central Africa (March 2018). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP12772. Available at SSRN:

Sara Rachel Lowes (Contact Author)

Bocconi University

Via Sarfatti, 25
Milan, 20136

Eduardo Montero

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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