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David Bannister

posts .icon { width: 20px; height: 20px; float: right; position: absolute; right: 30px; bottom: 30px; }David Bannister

I’m currently based in Oslo, with interests in contemporary world history, the political economy of health and disease, the social history of public health in Africa, the role of generational memory, and in the interplay between ideologies of health and the practical structuring of health systems. It’s wonderful to be joining the C3W team, with a chance to work on the foundational role of socialism in the evolution of present-day global health.

My recent research has focused on Ghana, as part of the ERC project ‘Universal Health Coverage and the Public Good in Africa’. It attempts to locate the past in the present: how experiences and memories of state health provision in earlier periods give rise to divergent generational expectations regarding the responsibilities of the state, the role of transnational and nongovernmental health organisations, the nature of Universal Health Coverage, and what ultimately constitutes a fair distribution of health resources. Drawing on documentary sources and interviews with current and retired health officials, health workers, and people who used health services from the 1940s onwards, the project also examines the way that healthcare persists or is elided in memory – which aspects of past health systems remain present in memory over time, and why.

For Connecting Three Worlds my research sets out to understand the role of past ideological and international influence in shaping contemporary state healthcare. It studies the influences of a broadly-defined socialist world, and of socialism as a political philosophy, on the evolution of health policies and services in post-Apartheid South Africa, through health officials appointed by the African National Congress (ANC) government since it took power in 1994. Successive cohorts of officials have embodied changing patterns of political belief, with implications for the evolution of healthcare – for collective or private ownership of health infrastructures; for the funding of services or health insurance; and in areas like the distribution of primary care facilities or legislation on occupational health.

As foreground, the research will trace the evolving public health philosophies of the ANC as a party-in-exile before the end of Apartheid in 1994. The ANC worked with the Soviet Union from the early 1960s, when many members received medical training or had other contacts with the socialist East, with social-democratic healthcare in Western Europe, and with the hybrid health systems of Non-Aligned Movement states. These experiences – formed in personal encounters, living and training abroad, or study and discussion among party members – were carried into the national health administrations of post-Apartheid South Africa. Diverse histories of influence were embodied by senior health officials and shared by others working at various levels and in different positions across the new health system. Socialist orientations towards healthcare in the ANC have also been shaped by its historical alignments with the international labour movement, with Castro’s Cuba, and by the influence of other postcolonial and broadly socialist health systems in Africa.

I hope to examine how ideologies of state healthcare within the ANC were transformed during its early-1990s transition from resistance movement to ruling party, and over the decades which followed – in national health planning, and at more closely-textured levels of social history, when the beliefs and aspirations of both high and low-ranking health officials came into conflict or accommodation with the status quo, in the context of globalism and the absence of international support for socialist models in healthcare. South Africa is currently exploring the creation of a National Health Insurance Scheme, influenced by competing visions for national health.


Bannister, David (2021). The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: sleeping sickness, onchocerciasis, and unintended consequences in Ghana, 1930–60. Journal of African Historydoi:10.1017/S0021853721000177 

Under Review:

Bannister, David. ‘Wilful Blindness: Sleeping sickness and onchocerciasis in northern Ghana, 1909-1957’.

Bannister, David. ‘Who gets the worm? Guinea worm disease and the origins of regional inequities in Ghana, 1900-2015’.

Bannister, David. ‘Remembering the cost: Oral history and payment for health services in Ghana, 1945-2019’.

Working papers and other publications:

Bannister, David. ‘Whose public, whose goods? Generations of patients and visions of fairness in Ghanaian health’ (Working paper)

Bannister, D. ‘Futures and the past in Ghana’s Universal Health Coverage Infrastructure’. Somatosphere (April 2020)Link here.

Bannister, David.  ‘Generation upon generation. Age and history in Africa and elsewhere’ (Working paper in historiography)

Bannister, D. (2017) Public health and its contexts in northern Ghana, 1900-2000. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI: