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Comrades in Health

U.S. Health Internationalists, Abroad and at Home
Edited by Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Theodore M. Brown
350 pages, 28 illustrations, 1 map, 1 table, 6 x 9
Paper, July 2013 $32.95   ADD TO CART
Cloth, July 2013 $88.00   ADD TO CART
epub, July 2013 $32.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Series: Critical Issues in Health and Medicine
Subject Area:
Health and Medicine, Human Rights


Since the early twentieth century, politically engaged and socially committed U.S. health professionals have worked in solidarity with progressive movements around the world. Often with roots in social medicine, political activism, and international socialism, these doctors, nurses, and other health workers became comrades who joined forces with people struggling for social justice, equity, and the right to health.

Anne-Emanuelle Birn and Theodore M. Brown bring together a group of professionals and activists whose lives have been dedicated to health internationalism. By presenting a combination of historical accounts and first-hand reflections, this collection of essays aims to draw attention to the longstanding international activities of the American health left and the lessons they brought home. The involvement of these progressive U.S. health professionals is presented against the background of foreign and domestic policy, social movements, and global politics.


"Everybody who cares about health and social justice, internationally and in the U.S., should read this book!"
—Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! and 2008 winner Right Livelihood Award

"This wonderful book offers a deeply reflective look at the motivations, ideology, and outcomes of this critical work, telling the stories of true heroes and heroines of American medicine and public health. It is must reading for anyone contemplating international health activism today."
—Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, cofounders, Physicians for a National Health Program

"Comrades in Health is a pioneering effort, a major addition to the study of global public health, and a new perspective on U.S. domestic health policy."
—Gerald M. Oppenheimer, coauthor of Shattered Dreams? An Oral History of the South African AIDS Epidemic

"Birn and Brown describe the history of international efforts to improve the health of vulnerable populations as an inherently sociopolitical, leftist, and often communist, endeavor. [The editors] create a coherent picture of the development of international health efforts...and will be an interesting read for more advanced students of public health and political science. Recommended."

"The most haunting lesson in this fine book stems from its call for an ethic of social consciousness in health care work. In this view, the struggle of justice for all is integral to the improvement of individual health outcomes, and it is as fraught with uncertainty and unintended consequences as is the treatment of individual illness. Birn, Brown and their colleagues update an old social medicine lesson that makes this struggle, with its risks, penuries and triumphs, a core professional duty instead of merely a morally praiseworthy individual pursuit."
—Global Public Health

"a captivating journey through the political, economic, and social turmoil that embroiled global health care during the 20th century."
—Nursing History Review

"Perhaps the most interesting lesson in Comrades in Health is in showing how the very term socialised medicine came to be such an imagined existential threat to the US body politic."

"Comrades in Health is important reading for those interested in the global debate surrounding the post-2015 global developmental agenda and future reform of the UN-centric humanitarian system required to address 21st-century human security and social justice."
—Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

Author / Editor Bio

ANNE-EMANUELLE BIRN is a professor and Canada Research Chair in International Health at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Marriage of Convenience: Rockefeller International Health and Revolutionary Mexico and lead author of the Textbook of International Health: Global Health in a Dynamic World.

THEODORE M. BROWN is a professor of history and of public health sciences at the University of Rochester. He is the coeditor of Making Medical History: The Life and Times of Henry E. Sigerist and coauthor of The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History.


Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Theodore Brown, Susan Gross Solomon, Walter J. Lear, Jane Pacht Brickman, H. Jack Geiger, Victor W. Sidel, Ruth Sidel, Bernard Lown, Howard Waitzkin, Paula Braveman, Stephen Gloyd, James Pfeiffer, Wendy Johnson, Mary Travis Bassett, Michael Terry, Laura Turiano, Alicia Ely Yamin, Seiji Yamada, Lanny Smith, Jennifer Kasper, Timothy Holtz, Razel Remen, Brea Bondi-Boyd, Vicente Navarro

Table Of Contents

List of Figures

Part I
1. Introduction: Health Comrades, Abroad and at Home
2. The Making of Health Internationalists

Part II
3. The Perils of Unconstrained Enthusiasm
4. American Medical Support for Spanish Democracy, 1936–1938
5. Medical McCarthyism and the Punishment of Internationalist Physicians in the United States

Part III
6. Contesting Racism and Innovating Community Health Centers
7. Barefoot in China, the Bronx, and Beyond
8. Medical Internationalism and the “Last Epidemic”

Part IV
9. Social Medicine, at Home and Abroad
10. Find the Best People and Support Them
11. Cooperantes, Solidarity, and the Fight for Health in Mozambique
12. From Harlem to Harare

Part V
13. Brigadistas and Revolutionaries
14. Health and Human Rights in Latin America, and Beyond
15. History, Theory, and Praxis in Pacific Islands Health
16. Doctors for Global Health
17. Doctors Across Blockades

Part VI
18. Across the Generations

Notes on Contributors


Framing Fat
Samantha Kwan, Jennifer Graves
Guy L. Clifton M.D.
Rima Apple
Cerebral Herniation Syndromes and Intracranial Hyp
Matthew Koenig