Reiko Kanazawa

I am currently a contemporary historian of global health, international development and drug control, though South Asian Studies has and continues to be an important theme. As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, my project uncovers the boundaries of addiction, medicines and disease in the history of international drug control from post-war to present. As a native Japanese, I am also examining Japanese aid, business ventures and commercial lending to India in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

My PhD questioned how expectations of government responsibility for health were reshaped through HIV/AIDS in an era of economic transition for India. Through AIDS control, I argue several futures for India after liberalisation were trailed, and some realised. These covered social values, such as the rights of sexual minorities, treatment of drug users and personal accountability for health. They also established new landscapes of governance, experimenting with political participation, government responsibility for public welfare, the appropriate place of foreign donors and the potential for enterprising non-state actors, such as NGOs and for-profit entities.

South Asian Studies + Sources + Methodology

Archival and interview fieldwork is an essential methodology for contemporary history, particularly grey literature of historical actors working in key international agencies and national governments. In my view, they explain the behind-the-scenes discussions behind major historical change. I rely equally on oral history interviews for similar reasons; I believe it is critical to ask historical actors to relate their version of the story as they perceived it.

When I first began my PhD at the University of Exeter, a major concern was that AIDS was so contemporary, I wouldn’t have any sources to draw from. During Year 1, I looked at digital repositories of USAID, Planning Commission, or WHO, but there were no cracks in the smoothness of official policy documents to get an inside look and an analytic grip.

Getting my Indian research visa (after a 4 month delay) opened up my data sources. While based at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Community Medicine and Social Health, I gathered data at the National Medical Library, JNU CSMCH Documentation Centre and AIIMS BB Dixit Library, while learning Hindi at Zabaan Language School. I also conducted oral history interviews with 17 individuals working in government, NGOs and donor agencies in connection to HIV/AIDS. Recently, I’ve begun to expand my archives to the United States (Rockefeller Archive Center and World Bank), London (GSK), Tokyo (Bank of Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Switzerland (WHO).

Findings + Conclusions

I believe my PhD’s major discovery was to foreground India’s AIDS response in the framework of the country’s renewed external engagement strategy after the Emergency. Using World Bank archival materials, I uncovered how Indian leaders were slowly discovering the instability of the international economic order in the waning Cold War. This led to a distinct agenda by India’s political elite to carve its own path for emergence, selectively relying on external partners only to the extent they served the country’s overarching goals.

It was in and between the disjuncture caused by India’s new engagement strategy, exemplified by liberalisation, that the first case of HIV in the country was discovered in 1986. Balancing AIDS uncertainty (a complex virus without affordable treatment), the Indian response lurched forward in the 1990s, separately from a fragmented health sector. The Indian AIDS programme really hit its stride by the mid-2000s, an era where so many ideas and arguments about social and economic development, human rights, addiction and criminality and most importantly, the appropriate place of government, civil society, donor and corporate in a new political economy were worked through their connections to a disease like AIDS.

Major Publications

‘Disease in a Debt Crisis: Financing Global Health, Development and AIDS between WHO and World Bank, 1978-87’, Medical History, 64(3), (2020), 303-324.

‘Positioning AIDS Activism in India: Civil Society Responses between Development Aid, Global Health and the State, 1989 to 2001’, Social History of Medicine (23 September 2019).

(In development) Controlling Disease, Contesting Development: Global AIDS in Neoliberal India. Book prospectus targeting Johns Hopkins University Press submitted 18 December 2020.

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