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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

From Asia to East Africa: Antibiotic Trajectories Across the Indian Ocean (FAR)

Alternative title: Fra Asia til Afrika: antibiotikaen veier over det indiske havet

Awarded: NOK 12.3 mill.

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Project Period:

2020 - 2025


The project started in December 2020. In the period up to October 2021, we have employed the research team and recruited students, set up a seminar/reading group on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and arranged a kick-off workshop. We have succeeded our aim to recruit PhD and Postdoctoral fellows and Researchers with solid language skills. The team now consists of one anthropologist with background from China (Postdoc), working on antibiotic production in China, one anthropologist with a background form Tanzania (Researcher), working on the historical development of import and regulation of Asian antibiotics in Tanzania, and one anthropologist from Kenya (PhD), working antibiotic use among small-and large scale farmers in rural Tanzania. The Tanzanian researcher has extensive experience with research on antimicrobial resistance research in East Africa and is an important resource for the entire team. Due to travel restrictions to Norway, parts of the team has worked from home offices in Canada and Kenya in the period up to August, and we are still waiting for one researcher to be able to relocate to Oslo. The PhD and Postdoctoral fellows, and researcher as well as a medical students and MA students, continue to prepare for fieldwork. The research team had a two-day kick-off workshop in June, focusing on methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of global material connections, which form the basis for our ambition to map global antibiotic trade from Asia (China and India) to Africa (Tanzania). Throughout the project period, we have met every second week for a seminar series/reading group on AMR with participants in the project and from IKOS (the Faculty of Humanities), as well as MA students and external medical doctors with an interest in global health. The group reads widely about AMR but emphasizes perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. These activities have contributed to establishing a common platform for the team, facilitating comparative future fieldwork. During the period, the PI has contributed to a funding application to The Nordic Research Council, aiming to establish a 'Nordic workshop series social research on microbes', together with colleagues from the universities in Helsinki, Copenhagen and Gothenburg, a network that will be important for the FAR project. Furthermore, the PI has joined a recently funded NORHED project that will contribute to the capacity building of medical and environmental anthropology at universities in East Africa, which also includes funding for one more PhD research fellow to work on food production and AMR resistance in the East-Africa, to be included into the FAR project

Introduced in the 1930s, antibiotics soon came to transform deadly diseases into treatable life events. Over the last decades, there has been an increasing concern that this old and potent medical technology is losing its power to heal due to growing numbers of resistant microbes worldwide. While few new antibiotics have been produced since the 1980s, the global markets for old school generic antibiotics are rapidly shifting -- from European and North American dominance, to an increasing production in the global South. This project explores antibiotic production in and export from Asia, following antibiotic trajectories in contemporary and historical trade routes across the Indian ocean to the markets in eastern Africa. The project brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, combining methods and perspectives from the humanities, social sciences and medicine to investigate how active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and generic antibiotics are produced, regulated and exported from China and India to Africa, and particularly Tanzania. In Tanzania we follow national regulations efforts and the circulation patterns of antibiotics in formal and informal markets, into the rural Kilimanjaro region where we investigate how small and large-scale farmers make use of these drugs for humans, animals and in the fields. In close collaboration with local partners, the project employs long-term ethnographic fieldwork, document and policy analyses, and archival work to develop a theory of drug trajectories in the global South. We will investigate China and India as global health actors, and the role of pharamceuticals to Chinese presence in Africa. The project is also response to the call from leading medical journals, such as The Lancet and Science, for research contributions from the humanities and social sciences to studies of antimicrobial resistance, and the project aims to inspire a more sustainable and context-sensitive use of antibiotics.

Publications from Cristin

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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell