This article explores the development and evolution of ‘neglected tropical diseases’ (NTDs) as an operative and imaginative category in global public health, focusing on the early intellectual and institutional development of the category in the 1970s. It examines early work around ‘neglected’ diseases in the Rockefeller Foundation’s Health Sciences Division, specifically the Foundation’s ‘Great Neglected Diseases of Mankind’ initiative that ran between 1978 and 1988, as well as intersections with the WHO’s parallel Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases and efforts by the US-based Edna McConnell Clark and MacArthur Foundations. A key concern of advocates who influenced initial programmes focused around ‘neglect’ was a lack of sophistication in medical parasitological research globally. Central to the NTDs’ capacity to animate diverse energies were claims about parasitic diseases and their place in new biotechnological approaches to medicine. This article explores how the emphasis on ‘neglected’, ‘tropical’ or even ‘endemic’ diseases encoded specific concerns and desires of parasitologists in the early 1970s. Despite the desire to prioritise the needs of ‘endemic’ countries and the recognition of a widening cohort of experts from both high-income and low-income nations, NTD advocates often recapitulated historic power dynamics privileging research institutions in the USA and Europe. Historicising and contextualising ‘neglect’ illuminates the contingent and changing politics of global health in a formative period in the late twentieth century.
- cultural history
- medical humanities
- public health
Data availability statement
Data sharing is not applicable as no data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study. No data sets were generated and/or analysed for this study.
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Contributors MKW is the sole author of this article.
Funding Research for this study was funded by the Social Science Research Initiative, Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences (University of Pittsburgh) and the Global Studies Center, University Center for International Studies (University of Pittsburgh).
Competing interests None declared.
Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.