Geographic mythology and global health

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Abdel Omran’s epidemiological transition theory has become a convenient heuristic device for explaining shifts in the global distribution of disease. In turn, the temporal and geographic transition from “pandemics of infection” to “degenerative and man-made diseases” (Omran 1971, 161) as countries develop has become part of the mythology of global health. Such myths are powerful not because they are necessarily clearly true or false, but rather for what they naturalize or oversimplify (Essebro 2018). Drawing on the example of the work undertaken over the past three decades to ensure the prioritization of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) as a problem of and for development within global health agendas, I draw on documentary and interview data to examine the origins and residual power of myths. Within this field, geographic myths (see Blaut 2006) about the social, economic, and spatial distribution of morbidity and mortality are a pervasive and persistent challenge for advocates trying to emphasize the threat of NCDs to the Global South. In examining the myth work undertaken by advocates, this article offers novel geographic perspectives to the critical global health field, while also arguing for the centrality of global health to geography as a discipline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1516-1533
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2023


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