In the essay “Cures” (Public Culture, September 2016), Bharat Venkat examines how biomedical scientists, since the time of Robert Koch (1843–1910), have contested what counts as trustworthy evidence of a cure for tuberculosis. Widespread cultural shifts accompanied these medical debates and developments. Randomized controlled trials now dominate as an evidentiary form in tuberculosis control with implications for how global health efforts roll out across diverse cultural contexts. A pharmaceutical approach drives the international export of a capsular cure to the neglect of providing sanatorium care, addressing disease transmission, and curbing drug resistance. In response to Venkat’s essay, Paul Mason and colleagues highlight how a biomedical narrative about tuberculosis became deterritorialized from high-income countries where new tuberculosis cases were decreasing, and reterritorialized in low-income countries where tuberculosis incidence was increasing. Pharmaceutical models of disease control have proven convincing and popular, but in going global they have had unintended consequences.
Cures, Tuberculosis, and Deterritorialized Biomedical Narratives
Paul H. Mason is a lecturer in anthropology at Monash University; an honorary affiliate in the Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University; and a research affiliate at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, University of Sydney.
Chris Degeling is a philosopher and bioethicist based at the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney. Their collaboration is part of an interdisciplinary research initiative funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence for Tuberculosis Control.