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The West African medical staff and the administration of imperial tropical medicine, 1902-1914

Johnson, Ryan (2010) The West African medical staff and the administration of imperial tropical medicine, 1902-1914. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 38 (3). pp. 419-439. ISSN 0308-6534

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Abstract

Established in 1902, the West African Medical Staff (WAMS) brought together the six medical departments of British West Africa. Its formation also followed the foundation of schools of tropical medicine in London and Liverpool. While the ‘white’ dominions were at the centre of Joseph Chamberlain's ambitions of erecting a system of imperial preference, the tropical colonies were increasingly tethered to the future security and prosperity of Greater Britain. Therefore, politicians and businessmen considered the WAMS and the new tropical medicine important first steps for making Britain's West African possessions healthier and more profitable regions of the empire. However, rather than realising these goals, significant structural barriers, and the self-interest and conservatism this helped breed among medical officers, made the application of even the most basic public health measures extremely challenging. Like many policies emanating from Whitehall during this period, what made the WAMS and the new tropical medicine thoroughly imperial was nothing accomplished in practice, but the hopes and aspirations placed in them.