Tubman Talks: “The Kemron Cure: Pharmaceutical controversies and Moi’s politics in Kenya, 1989-1993”

Presentation1Dr. Denielle Elliott will present, “The Kemron Cure: Pharmaceutical controversies and Moi’s politics in Kenya, 1989-1993” on Thursday, February 25, 2016, at the Harriet Tubman Institute from 2:30-4:00 p.m.

This paper is part of a series that examines the life’s work of Kenyan scientist Davy Koech. In 1990 at the African AIDS Conference in Kinshasa Davy Koech announced he and his colleagues had discovered an effective strategy for the management of HIV– a drug they called Kemron. The results suggested that oral interferon alpha proved effective in treating HIV. The drug was nationalized and politicized by former President Daniel arap Moi (Amidst demonstrations demanding multi-party democracy, arrests, and deaths) and the media erroneously reported that Kenyan scientists had found a “cure” for AIDS, damaging the scientific reputation of Koech and creating a scientific landscape that was marred by suspicion, corruption, and mistrust. This paper aims to disrupt the ways in which African science and African scientists are imagined by retelling the Kemron story, specifically by examining parts of the story/stories left untold and by taking seriously contradictions and inconsistencies in the memories and archival record. The Kemron Cure is case study which forces us to consider postcolonial anxieties in science, racial tensions in ‘global’ research, and it highlights the socio-political nature of scientific evidence of clinical trials.

Brief Bio

Denielle Elliott is a cultural anthropologist specializing in Africanist anthropology, the politics of medicine, and the social study of science and technology. Her work explores the intersections of govermentality, spatiality, and therapeutic technologies in East Africa. She is currently working on two related projects. The first is a social history of Kenyan scientist Davy Koech and his contribution to nation-building in postcolonial East Africa. The second is a collaborative project exploring the KEMRI 6 court case in Nairobi – a project that examines the entanglements of constitutional reform, transnational medical networks, the politics of race, and precarious labour. She is a founding member of the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography – an interdisciplinary, cyber-collective dedicated to new scholarship fusing visual, literary and performing arts, social theory, and ethnographic research.

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