Developing Humanitarian Medicine: from Alma Ata to Bio-Tech, a history of norms, knowledge production and care (1978-2020)

Year of award: 2023


  • Prof Bertrand Taithe

    University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Project summary

This project on the history of humanitarian medicine as a set of emergency interventions seeks to generate significant shifts in understanding its scientific and organisational specificity and role in developing clinical norms, debating a ‘rights-based’ approach to health access and leading campaigns for access to drugs while deploying bespoke biotechnological tools.

This research project will investigate questions that have direct relevance to the future of medical humanitarianism:
1. How have humanitarian initiatives, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and international and national actors developed humanitarian medicine since the declaration of Alma Ata (1978) on primary healthcare?
2. How have they defined humanitarian medicine and its remit?
3. How have they established normative processes regulating their action and the reach of humanitarian medicine?
4. How have humanitarian medical providers engaged with pharmaceutical and biotech industries?
5. And finally, how have states sought to harness and control humanitarian medicine?

This history will inform humanitarian practice and contribute to ongoing debates on how humanitarian medical providers engage with pharmaceutical and biotech industries to disseminate, repurpose and research drugs and diagnostic tools.

The project will develop four work packages building up from patient-centred clinical norms and concerns on care to experimental initiatives in humanitarian settings and state-led norm-setting diplomacy through emergency medical teams (EMTs) initiatives.