Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Africa and the Epidemiological Imagination - Call for Posters

3 July 2018

Cathedral square

We invite abstract submissions for an early career scholar (PhD candidates, postdoctoral scholars, etc.) poster session for a workshop on Africa and the Epidemiological Imagination at the Institute of Advanced Studies at University College London on September 6th and 7th. 

Over the past two decades, chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, cancer, liver and renal diseases, as well as mental health disorders, have become increasingly visible on the African continent. Whether it is a local newspaper in Kampala or Accra or a critical report from the World Health Organization, the explanation for this increase in chronic diseases is often attributed to wealth and “lifestyle choices,” and an epidemiological transition. First put forward by Abdul Omran in 1971, this theory was an attempt to spell out the consequences of the extraordinary advances in health status made in industrialized countries since the eighteenth century. Omran posited that all societies would move through three stages, from a regime dominated by pestilence and famine, characterized by high and fluctuating mortality and low life expectancy, through an age of receding pandemics to one dominated by degenerative and man-made disease. The idea that Africa is the last continent to undergo the “transition” to a “modern” epidemiological regime still underlies much of the health policy literature and the messages being conveyed to African patients, despite the many the existence of many critiques of Omran's theory.

In this workshop, our aim is to bring historians and social scientists into conversation with epidemiologists and public health policy officials who are making knowledge and policy about the chronic disease epidemic on the continent. We ask: what is the utility of “transition” as a way to theorize, describe, and explain the increasingly visible chronic disease burden on the continent? What are the strategies for rethinking temporalities of transition on the African continent? How do we bring “transitions”—political, economic, epidemiological - into the same frame of analysis? Other core questions include: What new theoretical tools are historians and public health colleagues using to move beyond the theory of epidemiological transitions? What are the challenges we face in making knowledge about the emergence of a chronic disease epidemic on the continent? And lastly, what can historians and social scientists and epidemiologists, clinicians, and public health policy makers learn from one another in a time of increasing urgency as patients seek relief for chronic conditions and African health practitioners strive to provide that care?


  • Revisiting ‘epidemiological transition’ theory from the vantage point of the ‘global south’.
  • Epidemiological methods and data collection: case studies from sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Developmental origins, epigenetics and alternative temporalities.
  • “Lifestyle diseases”, food, nutrition, environment and global systems.
  • Chronic conditions and the challenges of care.

Please submit your abstract by August 3, 2018 to Marissa Mika (m.mika@ucl.ac.uk). Participants will be notified shortly thereafter. 

Register for the conference here.