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Postcolonial blood infrastructures of hepatitis B (a view from West Africa)

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The development of serological markers for hepatitis B infection kindled a rush, beginning in the late 1960s, for West African blood (as well as liver tissues). These tissues were processed – mostly or in part in the US and France – to generate evidence of an aetiological link between persistent viral infection and cirrhotic/cancerousliver damage; to map out patterns of viral circulation; and to evaluate the efficacy of the first human blood-derived hepatitis B vaccines. The exchange of blood (and liver bits) as research material was, from the outset, coproduced with modes and moments of viral contact among bloodstreams, as well as the prospect and practice of modulating immunities by relocating antigens between bodies. By speaking of ‘blood infrastructures’, I want to draw attention not only to the material underpinnings (and economies) of research on, exposure to and immunization against hepatitis B in the 1970s–1980s – including in Mali, Senegal and The Gambia – but also to explore how their respective stakes, interactions and geographies were entangled. These entanglements, I suggest, illuminate key postcolonial dimensions of, and thus persisting inequalities in, hepatitis B knowledge and antibody production.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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