The History of Blood Transfusion in Sub-Saharan Africa — 2013

By William H. Schneider

“This is an impressive work.… The reader feels comfortable in the hands of a mature and competent expert who has followed the history of blood transfusion for years, and has indeed already contributed important articles on the subject.”

Myron Echenberg — McGill University

“The impact of transfusions in colonial Africa on the emergence of AIDS has not been told. Schneider’s book skillfully fills this void with his firsthand investigations of the history of transfusions in Africa. The book provides a new and critical framework for understanding how transfusing blood may have catapulted simian viruses from remote places in Africa to pandemic AIDS status.”

Preston A. Marx, Professor and Chair, Division of Microbiology at Tulane National Primate Research Center

“This impressive historical account renders an authoritative account of the the establishment of Transfusion Medicine in sub-Saharan Africa. This book should prove to be a valuable resource for many years to all those interested in the ongoing history of this specialty.”

Morris A. Blajchman, MD, FRCPC, Emeritus Professor, Pathology and Molecular Medicine, McMaster University

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This first extensive study of the practice of blood transfusion in Africa traces the history of one of the most important therapies in modern medicine from the period of colonial rule to independence and the AIDS epidemic. The introduction of transfusion held great promise for improving health, but like most new medical practices, transfusion needed to be adapted to the needs of sub-Saharan Africa, for which there was no analogous treatment in traditional African medicine.

This otherwise beneficent medical procedure also created a “royal road” for microorganisms, and thus played a central part in the emergence of human immune viruses in epidemic form. As with more developed health care systems, blood transfusion practices in sub-Saharan Africa were incapable of detecting the emergence of HIV. As a result, given the wide use of transfusion, it became an important pathway for the initial spread of AIDS. Yet African health officials were not without means to understand and respond to the new danger, thanks to forty years of experience and a framework of appreciating long-standing health risks. The response to this risk, detailed in this book, yields important insight into the history of epidemics and HIV/AIDS.

Drawing on research from colonial-era governments, European Red Cross societies, independent African governments, and directly from health officers themselves, this book is the only historical study of the practice of blood transfusion in Africa.


William H. Schneider is Professor of History at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is author of Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration in Twentieth-Century France and An Empire for the Masses: The French Popular Image of Africa, 1870–1900; and editor of Rockefeller Philanthropy and Modern Biomedicine: International Initiatives from World War I to the Cold War.

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244 pages · 6 × 9 in.

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