By Karen Brown
“Brown has done a brilliant piece of detective work to trace the erratic progress of the disease through the region in the twentieth century. She integrates an innovative history of science and medicine with a complex understanding of the ecology of disease. All of this is told in an engaging narrative which captures the cultural and political significance of rabies in societies riven by divisions of class and race.”
William Beinart, coauthor of Environment and Empire
“A compelling history of one of the most gruesome epidemic diseases that affect both humans and animals…. In seven chapters Brown is not only writing a history of rabies in colonial and post-colonial Southern Africa but shows how medical history can be as much environmental history as it is the history of ideas and of course social history.”
Environment and History
“Karen Brown demonstrates in her well-researched survey that the history of rabies in South Africa involved not only tranformations in veterinary practices, in epidemiology, in conservation, and in public health policy but also in wildlife. Over the twentieth century, the disease adapted to a variety of faunal vectors, including jackals, tigers, lions, mongooses, meerkats, and wild, stray, and domestic dogs.”
“With few full studies of rabies available, Brown’s ecohistorical perspective will generate more than parochial interest.”
Through the ages, rabies has exemplified the danger of diseases that transfer from wild animals to humans and their domestic stock. In South Africa, rabies has been on the rise since the latter part of the twentieth century despite the availability of postexposure vaccines and regular inoculation campaigns for dogs.
In Mad Dogs and Meerkats: A History of Resurgent Rabies in Southern Africa, Karen Brown links the increase of rabies to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Her study shows that the most afflicted regions of South Africa have seen a dangerous rise in feral dog populations as people lack the education, means, or will to care for their pets or take them to inoculation centers. Most victims are poor black children. Ineffective disease control, which in part depends on management policies in neighboring states and the diminished medical and veterinary infrastructures in Zimbabwe, has exacerbated the problem.
This highly readable book is the first study of rabies in Africa, tracing its history in South Africa and neighboring states from 1800 to the present and showing how environmental and economic changes brought about by European colonialism and global trade have had long-term effects.
Mad Dogs and Meerkats is recommended for public health policy makers and anyone interested in human-animal relations and how societies and governments have reacted to one of the world’s most feared diseases.
Karen Brown is currently an ESRC Research Fellow at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford. She has published a number of papers that deal with environmental and veterinary history in South Africa.
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