This text draws upon an extensive collection of life histories to elaborate the perspectives of patients themselves who suffer from leprosy in Mali. It describes the transformation of leper identities with changes in medical and social responses to the disease. By situating seemingly local experiences of patients within the larger context of national and global change, the author aims to deepen our understanding of a range of issues including stigma, marginality, begging and migration. He explains how the dibilitating nature of leprosy interfered with one's ability to marry, farm and participate in other facets of normal life. Leprosy sufferers became outcasts in their villages and often migrated to treatment centres in Bamako and other towns. At these centres, patients constructed self-conscious communities which empowered them socially and politically. Eric Silla argues that lepers should be seen as vibrant political actors instead of their stereotype as pitiable victims. The text is a contribution to the history of French colonialism and of socialism, dictatorship, and democracy in independent Africa. The example of Mali also raises important questions about Western public health programmes that emphasize biological cures with little regard for social rehabilitation. North America: Heinemann
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ERIC SILLA received a B.A. from Yale College and a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. His latest article appears in the Cahier d'Etudes Africaines (no. 144, 1996). A recent exhibit on leprosy at the United Nations featured several of his photographs from Mali. After teaching at Northwestern and Georgetown Universities, Dr. Silla created and directed a study-abroad program in Mali for the School for International Training. He is the recipient of Jacob Javits and Fulbright-Hays fellowships from the U.S. Department of Education. The Social Science Research Council and the Center for Arabic Study Abroad have also awarded him grants for study and research in Africa.Review:
Silla's original, lucidly and imaginatively presented study sets a high standard for other historians to follow, tracing how those afflicted with other diseases have reacted over time to changing politics and treatments. A similar study of AIDS would be particularly welcome, considered, as here, historically, not just clinically, and showing in what ways the patients and their communities have been transformed. - Christopher Fyfe in JOURNAL OF MODERN AFRICAN STUDIES Eric Silla is proud of what his friends, the leprosy patients, have achieved: he tells their story engagingly in a refreshingly interesting book which helps us to understand how people cope with, and rise out of, a socially desperate disease. - Eldryd Parry in AFRICAN AFFAIRS
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