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Author:       Ngalamulume, Kalala J.
Title:        "City Growth, Health Problems, and Colonial Government 
              Response: Saint-Louis (Senegal), From Mid-Nineteenth Century 
              to the First World War"

Date:         1996 
Institution:  Michigan State University
Advisor:      K. David Robinson
Degree:       Ph.D.

Abstract: The origin of Saint-Louis in 1659 and its growth are inseparable from the history of the development of the French commercial empire in the framework of the newly-created world economy. This study argues that city's health problems were due to two sets of factors, external and internal. The external factors related to the importation of diseases (epidemic and others) in the context of international trade. Yellow fever, imported from tropical America, struck the city in a spectacular way in 1867, 1878, 1880-1, and 1900. Cholera ravaged the city in 1868-9 and 1893. Both diseases made many victims. The internal factors had to do with the inadequacies of public health policies, especially concerning housing, waste removal and water supply.

The evidence from Saint-Louis shows that the French medical authorities poorly understood the etiology of diseases and attributed the diseases to 'miasmas,' cemeteries, hivernage (rainy season), the 'evil' wind, city market, to the colonial minorities (Moors, Moroccans, Syrians), and to the indigenes, especially their living conditions and activities (e.g., drying of fish and skins, and healing practices). Unmarried women, who were in contact with the soldiers, provided convenient scapegoats. Sanitary measures such as the imposition of health passports and the forced removal of the poor from the city center, expressed the 'sanitation syndrome' that characterized the colonial mentality until as late as 1913. The Catholic missionaries emphasized divine vengeance against the sinners and the heathen.

The study underscores the fact disease revealed the urban society to itself: unequal development, prejudices, diversity and tensions across quartiers, social classes, religions, races and ethnic groups, but also, to some extent, homogeneity and forms of solidarity within them. The most lasting tension appeared between the colonial government and the European merchants, on the one hand, and between the colonial authorities and the city government, controlled by the mulattos, on the other hand. The reactions of the indigenes to biomedicine were situational, depending on the nature of the disease or illness.

By 1900 the bacteriological revolution provided a better understanding of the etiology of diseases and to effective solutions to city's health problems in the areas of vector control, water supply, and sewage disposal.


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