LinkedIn: Sebastian Fonseca
Sebastian Fonseca is an international medical doctor (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Colombia), MA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Health (UCL, UK) and PhD in Global Health and Social Medicine (KCL, UK). His doctoral research focused on Latin American social medicine as a thought style from the largest association in the region: the Latin American Social Medicine and Collective Health Association ALAMES. Established in the early 1980s, ALAMES is a transnational collective integrating critical social theory to analyse the social basis of health and disease. The collective utilises Marx’s Historical Materialism, decolonial perspectives, and feminist literature to critically engage with topics like healthcare system reforms, interculturality in health, and health epistemology. Though a remarkable case of socialist health in Latin America, ALAMES represents a mere instance of a broader development of leftists medicine yet to be explored in the region. Sebastian also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Zurich, exploring the relationship between social medicine and the broader development of public health in Latin America during the last century.
Sebastian’s research at C3W is titled ‘Latin American Social Medicine in the “long” Cold War.’ It begins with the premise that mainstream contemporary global health narratives are distorted to favour liberal, capital-driven, neocolonial and US-centred viewpoints. Consequently, global health history often neglects other health cultures rooted in situated perspectives of socialism or socialist health embodied by collective historically marginalised in regions like Latin America. To construct a complete history of global health, further work needs to be advanced, answering questions such as: What is the impact of ‘socialism’ during the Cold War in Latin American institutions, programs, expert networks, policies, research collaborations and local resistance? How was ‘socialism’ or ‘socialist health’ operationalised and incorporated in Latin American left? How were the different global versions of socialist health assimilated, transformed and/or resisted regionally? And what is the legacy of Latin American socialist models in current practices of global health and healthcare? The project Sebastian advances tackles these questions by taking ‘social medicine’ as a proxy thought style of socialist perspectives in Latin America during the Cold War. His ‘global’ approach draws from recent scholarship that seeks to decentre the history of global health from the dominant North American/European focus, incorporating evidence on the circulation of knowledge, practices, scholars and resources in the constitution of global health. By presenting situated epistemologies at the centre, the research aims to contribute to new histories of global health, balancing the insights of Anglo-European work with how Latin America incorporated, adapted and/or resisted dominant discourses.
Sebastian’s research interests lay on the critical analysis of situated epistemologies from historically marginalised collectives to contribute to contemporary debates in the field of STS and global health. These debates include the relationship between global and local ways of thinking about health, social medicine as an alternative to dominant narratives in global health history, and the struggle of epistemologies from the ‘south’ to be recognised as equal in the field (epistemic injustice).
There are multiple cases of ‘socialist health’ in Latin America, which the social medicine tradition across the region portrays. These include:
Image 1. Since the Peace Agreements with the FARC were signed in 2016, Colombia’s Truth Commission has investigated the cases of situated healthcare models across war-torn regions. The official report was released and presented to the public in April 2021 (official launch above) – delving into cases that remain underexplored. By articulating with the network Red Saludpaz, Sebastian’s C3W research can explore social medicine institutions, networks and practices during Colombia’s conflict in the context of the Cold War.
Image 2. The FMLN offers the case study of the Guarjila region, whereby a successful healthcare system was established in the small province during the local civil war (197-1992), providing maternal and infant services during the 1980s. After the FMLN won Salvadorian’s elections in 2009, the Funes government set out to systematise de guerrilla’s experience at the national level in what was known as ‘Guarjilizacion de El Salvador.’ The process effectively became El Salvador’s national healthcare system that still operates today—established in 1988 by refugees in the region with the support of the dissenters’ group.
Image 3. A similar case is presented in Chiapas, Mexico – territory controlled by the Zapatismo or Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional. In the picture depicted is the ‘Clinica Autonoma de los Pobres “Las Tazas”’ (Autonomous Clinic of the Poor “Las Tazas”), inaugurated in 1995 at the Dolores Hidalgo area, state of Guanajuato. The clinic operates with a pharmacy, free out-patient services, and the financial support of the IMSS (Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social or Mexican Institute of Social Services).
Fonseca, SF (2020). ‘Latin American Social Medicine: The making of a Thought Style.’ Thesis presented for the doctoral degree Global Health and Social Medicine at the King’s College London, UK. Supervision by Prof Ann Kelly and Dr David Reubi.
Fonseca, SF (2020). Biographical Accounts as part of Ethnomethodology: the case of Latin American social medicine. Qualitative Health Methods. Undergoing review.
Fonseca, SF (2021). Health Militancy in Latin American social medicine. Social History of Medicine. Undergoing review.
Fonseca, SF (2021). Off-shores Medical McCarthyism: Reframing violence and persecution of Latin American social medicine. Bulletin of Medical History. Undergoing review.
Fonseca, SF (2021). Socialist Health and Solidarity: Case-study from the Sanitarismo movement in Brazil. Medical History. Undergoing review.