Sister of Charity distributes UNRRA food.  Belgium, 1946Doctor and nurse giving examination and treatment for hookworm to one of children in Goodman School health room, April 1939. Rural vaccinator in United Provinces, British India, c.1930, private collection of Dr Sanjoy BhattacharyaYoung girl prays before eating school lunch of soup, milk, and an apple. 1936. Part of U.S. Works Progress Administration Surplus Commodities: School Lunch Programs during the Great Depression.
Economic Crises and Health in Historical Perspective


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June 2011


The economic and financial crisis that has unfolded in 2008-2009 has already had momentous consequences for the health of millions of individuals in almost every part of the world, for the organization of health systems, and for the sustainability of projects and policies of global health. The early signs of these consequences were evident in 2008, and the historical experience of the worldwide economic crises of the 1930s, 1980s and 1990s provides an indication of at least some of the multiple respects in which economic depressions affect health. Crises can be a time of opportunity for health reform, as well as a time of intense risk. But health security is so far a matter of very low priority in national and international policies, even as economic circumstances worsen.

The Common Security Forum (CSF), based at the Centre for History and Economics (Magdalene College, Cambridge and King’s College, Cambridge) has, with the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation, initiated a new program on Economic Crises and Health in Historical Perspective which will bring together, in 2009-2010, historians of medicine and public health, scholars of health policy, economic historians, and policy-makers from the United Nations and national governments.

CSF will organize a series of meetings on the historical experience of economic crisis in relation to public health and health systems, including children's health, health and migration, and periods of transition in global health policy. The meetings will be arranged in close cooperation with CSF programs to be undertaken at the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, concerned especially with health systems in Mexico and the United States, and at the China Medical Board, concerned especially with economic crises and health systems in China and South-East Asia. CSF hopes over the period of the program to develop new work on economic crises and health in Africa, in cooperation with the Centre of African Studies at the University of Cambridge.