BSc Biomedical Sciences with Industrial/Professional Experience

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Health is a Human Right: The Global Quest for Universal healthcare

Course unit fact file
Unit code HSTM30232
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The 20th century witnessed the most fundamental changes in global healthcare. In Britain it gave birth to the National Health Service, ensuring free access to healthcare. In Asia, Africa and Latin America, health was aligned to questions of poverty, nutrition, maternity and children’s health.

Through a historical perspective, this unit introduces you to the contemporary global challenges of public health. It analyses the various national projects in Europe, Latin America and Asia to tackle problems of poverty, malnutrition, sanitation, medical infrastructure, and curative and preventive health measures in rural and urban areas. The unit studies various movements around public health, showing how public health became fundamental to national development, and how nations sought to provide access to healthcare to a larger population.

As a unit on the history of public health, it brings together insights from history, population studies and economics.



The unit introduces the global movements around health, development and universal healthcare in the post-World War 2 era. In doing this, it explores the roles of the state, civil society, and individuals in establishing, administering and delivering public healthcare.  


Learning outcomes

On completion of the unit you will be able to:

  • Identify historical approaches to public health
  • Describe the chronology of major challenges in global health
  • Analyse political, economic, ethical and historical debates surrounding models of public health and universal health coverage
  • Present and defend informed arguments on the topic


In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a literature-based review, integrating a range of disciplinary approaches



  • From Public Health to ‘Health for All’
  • The birth of social medicine
  • The Third Wave: the making of the NHS
  • WHO and primary healthcare: the Alma Ata Declaration
  • Make population the problem: the struggle to control world population
  • Postcolonial national developments and healthcare
  • Between the people and the state: civil societies and public health
  • The Soviet model: the origins of social medicine
  • China and barefoot doctors
  • Cuba: health without wealth
  • The Fifth Wave and future challenges for global public health

Teaching and learning methods

This unit will have one 1 hour lecture and one 1 hour seminar every week.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

For the written essay: Detailed feedback is provided online through Balckboard. Students are also encouraged to meet for face to face feedback.

For the exam: Exam scripts will contain comments for students to consult, should they wish to.

Recommended reading

  • Amrith, Sunil, ‘Political Culture of Health in India: A Historical Perspective’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jan. 13-19, 2007), pp. 114-121
  • Amrith, Sunil, Decolonizing International Health: India and Southeast Asia, 1930-65, 2006, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  • Banerji, Debabar. ‘The Politics of Underdevelopment of Health: The People and Health Service Development in India: A Brief Overview’, International Journal of Health Services 34 (2004), 123–42
  • Baru, Rama V., ‘Commercialization and the Public Sector in India: Implications for Values and Aspirations’, in Maureen Mackintosh, Meri Koivusalo (eds), Commercialization of Health Care: Global and Local Dynamics and Policy Responses, Palgrave, 2005, pp. 101-116
  • Bashford, Alison, Global Population: History, Geopolitics, and Life on Earth, Columbia University Press, New York, 2014
  • Bernstein, Frances Lee, Burton, Christopher, and Healey, Dan. Soviet Medicine: Culture, Practice, and Science, Northern Illinois University Press, 2010.
  • Connelly, Matthew J, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.
  • Cueto, Marcos and Palmer, Steven, Medicine and Health in Latin America: A History, Cambridge University Press, 2015;
  • Jeffery, Roger, ‘Health planning in India 1951-84: the role of the Planning Commission’, Health Policy and Planning, 1986; 1: 127-137
  • Kark SL, Kark E. Promoting Community Health: From Pholela to Jerusalem. Johannesburg, South Africa: Witwatersrand University Press; 1999.
  • Medcalf, Alexander, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Hooman Momen, Monica Saavedra and Margaret Jones (eds), Health for All; The Journey of Universal Health Coverage, Orient Blackswan, 2015.
  • Morgan, Lynn Marie, Community Participation in Health: Politics of Primary Care in Costa Rica Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993
  • Packard, Randall, ‘Visions of Postwar Health and Development and Their Impact on Public Health Interventions in the Developing World’, in Frederick Cooper and Randall Packard, eds., International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge (University of California Press, 1997), pp. 93-118.
  • Patel, Vikram, R. Parikh, S. Nandraj, Priya Balasubramaniam, Kavita Narayan, Vinod K Paul, A K Shiva Kumar, Mirai Chatterjee, and K Srinath Reddy, ‘Assuring Health Coverage for All in India’, Lancet, 386, no. 10011 (2015): 2422-35.
  • Rao, Mohan (ed) Disinvesting in Health: The World Bank’s Prescription for Health, New Delhi, Sage, 1999
  • Rao, Mohan, From Population Control to Reproductive Health: Malthusian arithmetic, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2004.
  • Reddy, K. Srinath, ‘India's Aspirations for Universal Health Coverage’, The New England Journal of Medicine 373, no. 1 (2015): 1-5.
  • Sean Brotherton, P.  Revolutionary Medicine: Health and the Body in Post-Soviet Cuba, Duke University Press, 2012

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Pratik Chakrabarti Unit coordinator

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