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Conceptualising metabolic disorder in Southern Africa: Biology, history and global health

Authors
  • Vaughan, Megan1
  • 1 University College London, Institute of Advanced Studies, Gower St, London, WC1E 6BT, UK , London (United Kingdom)
Type
Published Article
Journal
BioSocieties
Publisher
Palgrave Macmillan UK
Publication Date
Jun 20, 2018
Volume
14
Issue
1
Pages
123–142
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1057/s41292-018-0122-3
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

This paper traces the history of the concept of metabolic disorder in global health and its application to the collection of health metrics relating to the ‘epidemic’ of non-communicable diseases in Southern Africa, with a focus on Malawi. Although the contemporary science of metabolism points to complexity and contingency, the application of a simplified version of ‘metabolic disorder’ or ‘metabolic syndrome’ as the supposed central driver of non-communicable disease in low- and middle-income countries runs the risk of obscuring the ways in which local circumstances and histories interact with global forces to produce epidemiological change. The paper discusses health data collection and its interpretation in Malawi to demonstrate how the use of this concept has led to a narrowing of the category of non-communicable disease and a neglect of the role of infectious disease in producing chronic conditions. Finally, the paper points to alternative approaches which might yield a better understanding of pressing health problems.

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