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Cholera in the Indian Ocean World since the Nineteenth Century

24. Mai 2023 

Work­shop at the Insti­tute for Social Anthro­pol­o­gy (ISA), Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sciences

Keynote: Pro­fes­sor Eric Tagli­a­coz­zo, Cor­nell University

Cholera—first described in the Ganges delta in 1817—spread glob­al­ly in sev­en pan­demics dur­ing the past two cen­turies. Most recent­ly, some 30 coun­tries world­wide report­ed cholera out­breaks in 2022 and a Lancet report from Octo­ber 2022 revealed an alarm­ing short­age of cholera vac­cines that result­ed in a shift from a two to a less last­ing one-dose vac­ci­na­tion strat­e­gy. In fact, the 7th pan­dem­ic of cholera—which first was iden­ti­fied in the med­ical sta­tion of El Tor among pil­grims return­ing from Mec­ca in the ear­ly 20th century—is ongo­ing. A dis­cus­sion of the scarci­ty in vac­cines, how­ev­er, was large­ly lim­it­ed to rel­e­vant health chan­nels and only some out­break hotspots (such as Haiti in 2010) made it into the inter­na­tion­al media and gained schol­ar­ly atten­tion beyond the med­ical and aid fields.

Cholera is an acute diar­rhoeal infec­tion caused by food or water con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with the bac­teri­um Vib­rio choler­ae. Left untreat­ed it might kill a per­son with­in hours. Despite the avail­abil­i­ty of a pro­phy­lac­tic Oral Cholera Vac­cine (OCV) since 1985, cholera still is a life-threat­en­ing dis­ease for the dis­ad­van­taged and the poor, rarely noticed in afflu­ent parts of the world. Main fac­tors that are con­ge­nial to the spread of cholera still include stressed water sup­plies, insan­i­tary hous­ing and the effects of envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters. These include in par­tic­u­lar earth­quakes, weath­er extremes and cer­tain hydro­log­i­cal events that are increas­ing­ly asso­ci­at­ed with cli­mate-change such as floods. Oth­er poten­tial­ly causal fac­tors are relat­ed to armed con­flict, under­re­port­ing of data on nation­al and local lev­els, the ongo­ing COVID-19 cri­sis and insuf­fi­cient­ly resourced nation­al health systems.

We take this alarm­ing sit­u­a­tion as an occa­sion to dis­cuss the V. choler­ae El Tor strain in both its his­toric dimen­sions and as a press­ing pub­lic health issue along two main method­olog­i­cal path­ways. First­ly, by trac­ing the his­tor­i­cal events of cholera in the lit­torals and inter­con­nect­ed hin­ter­lands of the Indi­an Ocean, known as the Indi­an Ocean World (IOW). The fac­tors con­duc­tive to the spread of V. cholera men­tioned above result­ed in recent out­breaks and pre­dis­pose coun­tries of the IOW to future out­breaks. We there­fore aim, sec­ond­ly, to bring new insight from the archives on IOW’s cholera his­to­ry in a fruit­ful dia­logue with the lived expe­ri­ences of recent and ongo­ing out­breaks in this region, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to the civ­il war-induced cholera in Yemen, more local­ized out­breaks in Kenya or the annu­al mon­soon­al out­breaks of endem­ic cholera serotypes in Bangladesh.

We invite con­tri­bu­tions that focus on cholera in the Indi­an Ocean World and help to shed new light

- on the eco­log­i­cal geog­ra­phy and the diverse cul­tur­al and his­toric per­cep­tions of dis­ease cau­sa­tion, trans­mis­sion and control;

- on the mul­ti­lay­ered inter­ac­tions between cholera out­breaks and non/human mobil­i­ties; whether assumed, blamed or evi­dence based;

- on the lived expe­ri­ences of suf­fer­ers, care givers and health care professionals.

Con­tri­bu­tions might have a rather schol­ar­ly or an applied char­ac­ter, draw­ing on archival stud­ies or on field work; they might be sit­u­at­ed inside or between med­ical anthro­pol­o­gy, med­ical his­to­ry, geog­ra­phy, IOW stud­ies, pub­lic health and allied fields or with­in the work expe­ri­ence by health pro­fes­sion­als and aid organizations.

As the ongo­ing COVID-19 cri­sis has upend­ed inter­na­tion­al trav­el, we intend to orga­nize the work­shop in a hybrid mode: both in a webi­nar for­mat as well as an in-per­son pre­sen­ta­tion at the Insti­tute for Social Anthro­pol­o­gy, Aus­tri­an Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in Vienna.

Please send an abstract of about 300 words and a short bio by Jan­u­ary 15, 2023 to and

The work­shop Cholera in the Indi­an Ocean World since the Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry is co-fund­ed by and con­tributes to the SSHRC Part­ner­ship Apprais­ing Risk.