211647 Revisiting ‘The Great Protein Fiasco” and the Internationalization of Kwashiorkor Research in Uganda, 1945-1973

Monday, November 9, 2009: 3:10 PM

Jennifer Tappan , Department of History, Portland State University, Portland, OR
With the 1974 publication of “The Great Protein Fiasco,” more than two decades of research on protein malnutrition as “the most serious and widespread problem in the world” became the one of the greatest embarrassments of nutritional science and international public health. As an extension of a larger historical investigation of nutritional science in Uganda, the paper examines the scientific research underlying the global emphasis upon protein malnutrition. While many interpreted the “Great Protein Fiasco” as an indictment of the biomedical science implicating protein, I argue that it was the interpretation of that evidence in the international arena that “The Great Protein Fiasco” called into question. Revisiting the assessment that the scientists “got it wrong” allows for a more accurate appraisal of how “erroneous worldwide generalizations” together with narrow definitions of the problem shaped an extensive and expensive international public health program that aimed to close the so-called “worldwide protein-gap.” Through an examination of WHO, FAO and UNICEF reports, scientific publications and oral and archival evidence gathered in Uganda and the UK, the local and the international are kept in a single frame in order to recast “The Great Protein Fiasco” as a cautionary tale emerging from a formative period in the growth of global science and medicine.

Learning Objectives:
To recognize the central role of interpretation in defining international public health problems and devising global health initiatives. To apply an historical framework to the analysis of nutritional science and the application of biomedical knowledge in the international arena.

Keywords: Nutrition, International Public Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Assistant Professor in African History at Portland State University. Her work focuses on the history of biomedical sciences and social and cultural change in Africa during the twentieth-century.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.