Report on SCOLMA Annual Conference 2016


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SCOLMA’s annual conference took place in the Alison Richard Building in Cambridge on Tuesday 6th September 2016. The theme was ‘African Medicine Matters: documenting encounters in medical practice and healthcare’ and there were 40 participants from Africa, Europe, the US and the UK.

The keynote speaker was Dr Benson Mulemi from the Catholic University of East Africa who spoke about contemporary African medicine, both traditional and western, and set out many of the themes which recurred during the day. He explained how it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of traditional African medicine scientifically as the active principles of medicines are often unknown, the same plant may have different properties in different areas and there may be different local methods of preparation. As traditional medicine is largely transmited orally it is not easily accessible and is at risk of being lost.

Dr Anne Samson of the Great War in Africa Association discussed medical practices in Africa during World War I, highlighting valuable sources of information such as the 1918 Pike Report into the administration of medical services in German East Africa. Dr Tony Jewell described the experiences of his grandfather, Dr Norman Parsons Jewell, as a medical officer in East Africa throughout the war, serving with the 3rd East Africa Field Ambulance responsible for African and Indian soldiers, and later as a colonial doctor in Kenya until 1932. Other speakers discussed how traditional medicines are being scientifically investigated, documented and made more widely available (for example, by Pax Herbals in Nigeria), the links between medical missionaries, development and health, public responses to sleeping sickness and Ebola, medical record keeping in Tanzania and the Cahiers Ponty at the Institute Fondamental d’Afrique Noire in Dakar, Senegal, a little-known source for education on health in Mali. Asha Ahmed Mwilu, an independent film-maker from Nairobi who has received the CNN African Journalist award for 2016, showed a fascinating half hour documentary film on traditional and western medicine in Kenya. Many of the papers will be published in SCOLMA’s journal, African Research and Documentation.

SCOLMA is grateful to Adam Matthew, Taylor and Francis, the Alison Richard Building and the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, for their support of the conference.

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