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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, AFRICAN HISTORY ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Research in the field of historical epidemiology involves a multidisciplinary approach that integrates evidence from the biomedical and public health sciences with other sources for historical analysis. Its principal goal is the understanding of the distribution of disease over time and space and the ways in which disease control efforts have had an impact on disease transmission. Based in part on microbiological data and analysis, the historical burdens of infectious disease for human beings and domesticated livestock in early tropical Africa appear to have been high relative to other world regions. Although Africans developed indigenous treatments that provided relief for many human diseases (and, in the case of smallpox, used variolation with smallpox matter to induce immunity), it was only in the 20th century that major scientific advances in disease control and treatment through the use of antibiotics and vaccines began to substantially reduce the overall burden of human and animal infectious disease. The advances in Western biomedicine did not displace African systems of indigenous medicine, and in most African contexts, different systems of medicine coexist.

Keywords: disease, epidemiology, infection, control, transmission

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