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History professor explores negative effects of medical missions

Views 51 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 3 - 7 - 2017 | By: Michelle Mukasa


Dr. Chandra Mallampalli, a history professor at Westmont, lectured on the idea that medical missions have historically run the risk of being used as tools of subjugation. Dr. Mallampalli mentioned in his opening statements that he intended to use the event to create a dialogue, rather than simply lecture the whole time. His discussion focused on the history of modern medicine being introduced to Asia and Africa by organizations with a mission to also spread Christianity. The event was hosted by the Science & Faith Club.
In the beginning of the discussion he told a story about a national event called the Urban Mission Conference, in which their advertisement caused a controversy. The picture that was initially chosen for the face of the conference portrayed a white doctor with a stethoscope around her neck holding an African baby. Dr. Mallampalli asked the people who attended what implications such a photo could have. Students commented on how the connotation of the stethoscope alone places medicine as the face of the mission. Also, by showing a white doctor, it could be viewed as a foreign nation coming to another nation to heal or better the nation.
Dr. Mallampalli challenged students with the idea that mission organizations should be traveling to places such as Africa with the goal of Africans being able to help other Africans, rather than Americans helping Africans. Missions involving foreign nations should not create dependency, but rather, they should allow for the nation to thrive independently of foreign entities.
Dr. Mallampalli moved on to the idea that “scientific enterprise of the west” was transforming. In a way, that allowed for the development seen in the Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, science informs and imparts knowledge, but in the same way that it can be beneficial, science can also be used to dominate others. The individuals who hold the tools or equipment to discover also hold power.
In the world of medicine there are also worldview clashes. Clashes between the spiritual world and medical world arose when Western medicine was introduced to India. To illustrate this point, Dr. Mallampalli examined Katherine Mayo, an American researcher who spent time in India. She was known for her book Mother India, which criticized India harshly. At a time when India was striving toward independence, the book concluded that India should not be given independence from British rule due to the treatment of women. Dr. Mallampalli explained that this book took one story of India and made it the whole story.
Meanwhile in India, Gandhi advocated for India’s independence from Britain. He also was in favor of organizations bringing modern medicine to India, as long as they didn’t use modern medicine as a tool to spread Christianity. This was due to the fact that most of the people seeking help from these organizations were vulnerable, desperately poor and seeking healing.
This discussion allows for another perspective on how missions for modern medicine around the world should approach other nations. Dr. Mallampalli talks on an idea that the goal of these missions must be to create a self-sustaining, local system. The act of missions is partnership involving both giving and receiving, in order to avoid a situation in which one country is making another country dependent on it.


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