Para-States and Medical Science: Making African Global Health
This chapter retraces how Cameroon became a hotspot for retrovirology during the 1990s. The international interest for the study of the Cameroonian HIVs channelled new forms and norms of scientific work, in a context of neoliberal reforms and economic collapse. It discusses how virologists framed their work in Cameroon as a global biosecurity issue, based on the idea that new, unknown viruses circulating among local apes and monkeys could pass to humans through the hunting and eating of “bushmeat” by Cameroonian populations. The chapter analyses how local artists and citizens criticized these high-profile researches by pointing out their absurdity, powerlessness, and obscenity. Drawing inspiration from this critique, I suggest that the fight against bushmeat viruses has a nihilistic potential: as unknown, nonexistent viruses were turned into priorities, largely fictive programs of surveillance distracted resources from real health issues, and public health interventions dissolved into spectacle, speculation, and pretence.