Rockefeller Foundation International Health Board in Colonial India and Imperial China: A Study of the Anti-Hookworm Campaign from 1913 to 1920s


Tiasangla Longkumer (PhD, Jawaharlal Nehru University; ICS-HYI Fellow)

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Abstract: The Rockefeller experts dispatched to Asia revealed hookworm as an international problem with prevalence rate alarming both in India and China. The extraordinary sanitary conditions of the Tamil coolies settled in plantation sites in India and labors in mining areas in China created ideal ecologies for the reproduction of the parasite and increased the levels of soil pollution. Just as the hookworm disease posed threat to workers in the colonial plantations in India, it became a menace for the workers in the mines and labors in central and south China. The scientific framework proposed by the International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation replicated from the US south faced challenges in the Indian and Chinese context. In India, addressing soil pollution was linked to access to water and proper sewage, which was mostly concentrated in European enclaves or houses of elite Indians.  In China, nightsoil was the prime fertilizer, which was an essential part of Chinese agriculture, and any attempt to bring reform would have huge economic consequences. This study traces the history of RF’s anti-hookworm campaign in colonial India and Imperial China from 1913 to the 1920s. Based on archival sources and scientific publications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the study attempts to explore the various sanitary measures adopted, the relationship between hookworm science and migrant labors, the extent and depth of the anti-hookworm program and the overall implications of the program on disease control in China and India.

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