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The Lomidine Files

, 240 pages

15 b&w photos, 2 maps

August 2017



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The Lomidine Files

The Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa


After the Second World War, French colonial health services, armed with a newly discovered drug, made the eradication of sleeping sickness their top priority. A single injection of Lomidine (known as Pentamidine in the United States) promised to protect against infection for six months or longer. Mass campaigns of "preventive lomidinization" were launched with immense enthusiasm across Africa. But the drug proved to be both inefficient and dangerous. Contaminated injections caused bacterial infections that progressed to gangrene, killing dozens of people. Shockingly, the French physicians who administered the shots seemed to know the drug’s risk: while they obtained signed consent before giving Lomidine to French citizens, they administered it to Africans without their consent—sometimes by force.

In The Lomidine Files, Guillaume Lachenal traces the medicine’s trajectory from experimental trials during the Second World War, when it was introduced as a miracle cure for sleeping sickness, to its abandonment in the late 1950s, when a series of deadly incidents brought lomidinization campaigns to a grinding halt. He explores colonial doctors’ dangerously hubristic obsession with an Africa freed from disease and describes the terrible reactions caused by the drug, the resulting panic of colonial authorities, and the decades-long cover-up that followed.

A fascinating material history that touches on the drug’s manufacture and distribution, as well as the tragedies that followed in its path, The Lomidine Files resurrects a nearly forgotten scandal. Ultimately, it illuminates public health not only as a showcase of colonial humanism and a tool of control but also as an arena of mediocrity, powerlessness, and stupidity.

Guillaume Lachenal is an associate professor in the history of science at the University Paris Diderot. He is the author of Le médecin qui voulut être roi: Sur les traces d’une utopie coloniale. Noémi R. Tousignant is an affiliate member of the Department of Social Studies of Medicine at McGill University and a guest researcher in history at the Université de Montréal. She is coeditor of Traces of the Future: An Archaeology of Medical Science in Twenty-First Century Africa.

"Impeccably researched, compellingly argued, and beautifully written, The Lomidine Files is an important book that rewrites older scholarship on African sleeping sickness while offering an original analytical strategy and methodology for reconfiguring histories of colonial medicine. A superb book, provocative, wide-ranging, and theoretically informed."

"This is a serious work that deserves serious contemplation; it will be of interest to historians from a variety of fields."

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