Seeking the prize of eradication: a social history of tuberculosis in New Zealand from world War Two to the 1970s

by Dunsford, Deborah

Abstract (Summary)
Between World War Two and the 1970s, the danger of TB disappeared for most New Zealanders. Conducted against a background of rising living standards, the anti-TB campaign saw dramatic declines in TB mortality and incidence. But tuberculosis proved far more opportunistic than expected. Its continued entrenchment at low levels among New Zealand’s poor frustrated the campaign’s ultimate goal of eradication.In the 1940s, the Health Department’s total commitment to the anti-TB campaign indicated the danger TB represented across society. The nationwide mass X-ray programme reflected the confidence in technology and medical science of the day. It operated for nearly 30 years but its value was largely symbolic. It was a costly means of identifying cases and a more targeted scheme may well have sufficed. BCG vaccination was introduced as the final block in a wall of anti-TB measures and the mass vaccination of school children sought to protect an entire at-risk age group. The timeframe of the anti-TB campaign witnessed the final years of sanatorium treatment. In spite of the isolation and uncertain outcome, these institutions offered many patients a positive experience, safe from the stigmatising attitudes common in society. The drug revolution allowed treatment at home and a reliable cure that, nevertheless, brought its own problems of compliance.The decline in TB was not shared equally. High Maori TB rates fell, but still lagged European rates and, from the 1960s, a growing Pacific Island immigrant population also challenged the goal of eradication. Attempts to control TB at the border reflected racist attitudes of the time. The Health Department grappled with the ethnic diversity of TB incidence and different cultural attitudes to the disease. Now curable, TB’s potential for stigmatisation faded, yet also persisted for those high-risk groups exposed to poverty. By the late 1970s, mainstream society was beginning to stigmatise ethnic minorities and immigrants as ‘responsible’ for TB.This thesis contributes to the history of tuberculosis and public health in New Zealand and internationally. It reveals the shifting ground beneath a public health campaign, not just in medical developments, but in the diversity of the targeted population. The thesis highlights the need for a dynamic and layered approach to public health that anticipates change and diversity and continually adjusts its activities and messages to meet them.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Associate-Professor Linda Bryder

School:The University of Auckland / Te Whare Wananga o Tamaki Makaurau

School Location:New Zealand

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/2008

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