Chapter 7Health in African History

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Shane Doyle


This chapter analyses the centrality of health within Africa's precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial history. It argues that a population’s health, the diseases from which people suffer, and the nature of social response to illness are profoundly revealing of the core characteristics of human societies. Human wellbeing is deeply influenced by economic conditions, while health is a key factor influencing productivity, governmental expenditure, and aid flows. As this chapter shows, African societies throughout history have organized themselves to manage their disease environments, the diagnosis of illness has invariably been shaped by cultural preconceptions, and the costs of care have threatened the viability of individual households and indeed social stability.


Doyle, Shane (2023). “Health in African History”, In Ewout Frankema, Ellen Hillbom, Ushehwedu Kufakurinani and Felix Meier zu Selhausen (eds.), The History of African Development: An Online Textbook for a New Generation of African Students and Teachers. African Economic History Network E-book.


Feature image: Painted by A. Jonas, Tinga Tinga Studio Tanzania

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