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

“Motivated by the desire to contextualize the relationship between HIV/AIDS and blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa, Schneider seeks to historicize the policies and practices of giving and receiving blood in this region…. This book provides a thought-provoking introductory platform that will stimulate further studies.”

African Affairs

“With numerous charts and graphs, images and analysis of recruitment posters, and detailed national case studies (featuring the Belgian Congo, Uganda, Kenya, and Senegal), this initial examination of blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa over the twentieth century is an important contribution to the history of global health as it intersects with the African past.”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

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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.

Cover of 'The History of Blood Transfusion in Sub-Saharan Africa'


  • International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 47, Issue 2, 2014

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