Seminar – ‘The Making of an ‘Anarchical Conglomerate’ Piloting Health Systems in the State of Cauca Valley, Colombia, 1957-1978’

Erica Nelson
(Centre for History in Public Health, LSHTM)

This talk is about an early health systems pilot project – what we might now call ‘health systems strengthening’ – that dissolved into something more anarchical than its creators had envisioned. There has been much written about the ‘success cartel’ in global health today and the difficulties of disentangling how and why projects go wrong. This historical case study of COLINPLAS, or Colombian Comprehensive Health Planning Project, is an opportunity for a deep dive into the relational politics of a multi-country research consortia that drew together, for a brief moment in time, a group of key figures in health systems thinking that included the ‘Harvard Johnnies’, the ‘Johnny Hopkins’, the RECS team at the World Health Organization headquarters, the Rockefeller Foundation and the University del Valle’s Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. To understand what drew this group together in their efforts to design the first scale-able health systems model for a low-income country, as well as the forces that pulled them apart, I consider the University del Valle as the locus of a historically-contingent politics of public health planning and the site of visionary community health approaches that emerged two decades prior to the Declaration of Alma Ata. This history offers an illustration of the pragmatics and politics of international research collaborations, and the limits of ‘rational’ and technical approaches to health planning in light of these complex relationships of power. It decentres a narrative of health systems creation in ‘developing’ countries as an exercise in top-down, neo-colonial control and instead considers this flagship pilot project as part

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 12.45 pm – 2.00 pm
Venue:  LG7, LSHTM, Keppel Street Building