Epidemiologies of Visibility and Neglect: Disease Ecologies on Liberia’s Concession Enclaves, 1920 – 1980

Project Lead: John Fayiah

This project examines the impact of industrial agriculture and mining activities in Liberia on the country’s ecosystems and healthcare landscapes. Through a focus on the Firestone Plantations Company and the Liberia-American-Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO), this study explores how large-scale landscape change and human migration patterns precipitated by the industrial extraction of rubber and iron ore in Liberia altered and shaped disease burdens. Specifically, the project investigates the potential benefits and unintended consequences of public health interventions undertaken to alter ecological relationships among insects, parasites, and their human hosts that influenced the distribution and abundance of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, schistosomiasis, and onchocerciasis and which posed a threat to worker productivity. Both the Firestone and LAMCO concessions became active sites for research by foreign investigators in understanding and mitigating vector-borne diseases as the healthcare and the well-being of foreign workers and laborers became top priorities. Yet, other significant environmental and health impacts that resulted from the waste pollution of industrial ecologies, as well as economic and social disparities related to housing, sanitation, and nutrition, were overlooked and neglected. How biomedical research historically shaped the visibility and neglect of particular disease burdens on concession areas and in Liberia, more generally, is a major focus of this project.