Malaria in Colonial South Asia: Uncoupling Disease and Destitution, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Malaria in Colonial South Asia

Uncoupling Disease and Destitution, 1st Edition

By Sheila Zurbrigg

Routledge India

360 pages | 6 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9780367272142
pub: 2019-09-17
Available for pre-order

FREE Standard Shipping!


This book highlights the role of acute hunger in malaria lethality in colonial South Asia and investigates how this factor came to be lost in modern medical, epidemic, and historiographic thought.

Using the case studies of colonial Punjab, Sri Lanka, and Bengal, it traces the loss of fundamental concepts and language of hunger in the interwar period with the reductive application of the new specialismsof nutritional science and immunology, and a parallel loss of the distinction between infection (transmission) and morbid disease. The study locates the final demise of the ‘human factor’ (hunger) in malaria history within pre- and early post-World War II international health institutions — the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation and the nascent WHO’s Expert Committee on Malaria. It examines the implications of this epistemic shift for interpreting South Asian health history, and reclaims a broader understanding of common endemic infection (endemiology) as a prime driver in the context of subsistence precarity, of epidemic mortality history and demographic change.

This book will be useful to scholars and researchers of public health, social medicine, history, history of medicine, colonial history, medical sociology, and sociology.

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

Abbreviations and Acronyms


Preface and Acknowledgments


1. The ‘Human Factor’ Transformed

2. The 1934-35 Ceylon Epidemic and its Epistemic Aftermath

3. Hunger Eclipsed: Nutritional Science in Colonial South Asia

4. The Larger Sanitationist Context

5. Colonial Retrenchment and ‘Selling’ Vector Control

6. Malaria and the W.H.O.: The ‘Human Factor’ Set Aside

7. Allure and Legacies of the Germ Paradigm

8. What Was Lost

Appendix I: Malaria Transmission in Punjab

Appendix II: An Epidemiological Approach to Hunger in History



About the Author

Sheila Zurbrigg is a physician and independent scholar based in Toronto, Canada. Her health history research investigates rising life expectancy in South Asian history in relation to food security. She has served as Short-Term Epidemiologist for the World Health Organization, Smallpox Eradication Program, Uttar Pradesh, and Coordinator, Village Health Worker Program, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. She has held appointments as Adjunct Professor, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; Visiting Scholar, York University, Toronto, Canada; and Visiting Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Her work with traditional village midwives in rural Tamil Nadu (1975–79) led to the analysis of child survival in contemporary India in relation to food security and conditions of women’s work. In 1985, she turned to South Asian health history research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Ottawa). Among her published work is the book Epidemic Malaria and Hunger in Colonial Punjab: Weakened by Want (2019).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HEALTH & FITNESS / Diseases / General
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Asia / India & South Asia
HISTORY / Social History
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Regional Studies
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disease & Health Issues