Call for Abstracts: Book Project on Contemporary Histories of Medicine in the Philippines

Gideon Lasco and Ma. Mercedes G. Planta, editors of Contemporary Histories of Medicine in the Philippines, welcome paper submissions for this collaborative book project with the Third World Studies Center (TWSC) and its dedicated editorial team. TWSC is an academic research institute in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP), University of the Philippines. This partnership promises that the project is dedicated to advancing knowledge in developing nations, specifically in the Philippines.

Since the second half of the twentieth century, historians and social scientists working on the Philippines have increasingly shown interest in the study of the history of medicine. Most of their works deal with the nineteenth and twentieth century, and generally trace the beginnings of modern (i.e., Western) medicine in the country and its colonial moorings, the triumph of scientific medicine, and the evolution of medical thought and practice. 

While there are also works that deal with the cultural aspects of medicine as local knowledge/artifacts that provide insights into the precolonial and everyday life of Filipinos in general, the interest with the social, political, and economic realities of these periods have defined most of these twentieth century preoccupations. The contributions of these scholars represent some of the most imaginative and significant works—both methodologically and theoretically—that are not only accounts of the development of the study of the history of medicine in the country but also works that illuminate the changes in Philippine history and society over time.

From the postwar years onwards, the Philippines has witnessed significant changes in health and healthcare-related issues. Life expectancy in the country has significantly increased over this period (from 40s in the 1940s to the low 70s today), the latter spanning the introduction of the first anti-TB medications to the elucidation of the DNA and the beginnings of genomic medicine. While medical advancements can partly be credited for this trend, it is important to acknowledge that the disease burden has shifted rather than fundamentally decreased. 

In recent decades, there has been a noticeable increase in cases of diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular-renal “lifestyle” diseases, along with a rise in deaths due to conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, bronchitis, and renal failure. Epidemics — most notably HIV/AIDS, SARS, and the COVID-19 pandemic — have had far-reaching societal impacts. Road accidents have also become a recent addition to the causes of mortality. Tuberculosis, which was the primary cause of death in Southeast Asia for centuries, remains a significant contributor to mortality in the Philippines even today.

The healthcare sector has also initiated significant transformations in Philippine society, particularly in the field of medicine and its practice across the nation. Notable developments include the ongoing emigration of healthcare professionals, the establishment of specialized medical associations, and the growth of private medical enterprises. Government initiatives such as anti-drug campaigns, programs related to animal and environmental health, and technological advancements in telecommunications such as the Internet, smartphones, and social media, bear medical components. Broader social and economic trends, such as internal and overseas migration, can be intertwined with these issues.

A diverse array of stakeholders, including medical professionals, grassroots movements, patient advocacy groups, healthcare influencers, pharmaceutical companies, and others, have actively participated in healthcare dialogues and practices.  Government programs, such as vaccination, reproductive health policies, and the promotion of universal healthcare, have faced persistent challenges concerning their perceived neutrality and the absence of inherent values. Traditional and alternative medicine have figured in underground and religious movements, and health activism remains a vibrant tradition, linking the country with people’s health movements around the world. 

The question now is how did the distribution and shift of diseases come about? How are these related to social class and gender, or other factors, for example? To what extent did urbanization influence these changes in disease dynamics? How did technological advancements and alterations in occupational structures, dietary habits, and housing conditions impact disease patterns? Is there any indication that changes in morbidity patterns might be attributed to changes in bacterial organisms and viruses rather than alterations in human behavior or conditions? How does government address these issues?

To answer these questions, historians of medicine and those engaged in research on the history of medicine in the Philippines are invited to explore the intricate connections between disease patterns and various factors, including socioeconomic, political, cultural, geographic, demographic, and occupational variables. It is about time we had works addressing the contemporary history of medicine in the Philippines. 

Understanding the evolution of medicine in the country is crucial for addressing present-day healthcare challenges and reflecting on Philippine society in the twenty-first century.This rich and multifaceted terrain not only presents the potential for deeper exploration of the history of medicine in the country but also invites us to uncover new dimensions of this captivating subject. Examining the varied aspects that constitute the contemporary histories of medicine will enable us to draw parallels between the past and the present. This exploration will help us identify trends, challenges, and opportunities on the development of both Filipinos and the Philippines, highlighting the interplay between healthcare advancements and societal changes in shaping the nation’s evolution over a century after independence.

We are particularly interested in contributions that explore the history of health and medicine by the second half of the twentieth century, onwards (after 1946), and welcome interdisciplinary perspectives that can enrich the discourse on the history of medicine in the Philippines. Early career researchers and those working on/from under-represented geographic, demographic, and topical foci are especially encouraged to submit their ideas. Submissions will undergo a rigorous peer-review process overseen by our esteemed editorial team to ensure the highest quality of scholarship.


Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

      • Aesthetic medicine (including cosmetic/plastic surgery)
      • Diagnostic technologies
      • Drug use and drug policy 
      • Environmental health Epidemics  
      • Gender  Health activism 
      • Health communications Infectious diseases 
      • Migrant health  Noncommunicable diseases 
      • Pharmaceuticals (antibiotics, vitamins, supplements)
      • Politics of health   Public health campaigns   Migrant health 
      • Medical education 
      • Medical humanities 
      • Medical tourism 
      • Mental health 
      • Nutrition and diet 
      • Occupational health 
      • Sexual and reproductive health 
      • Tobacco control 
      • Traditional and alternative medicine 
      • Universal health care 

Prospective contributors are welcome to submit a Word document with an abstract and a brief bionote to by March 30, 2024. Feedback on submitted abstracts will be provided by May 31, 2024. Accepted contributors are expected to submit complete manuscripts by December 2024. For inquiries, please contact the email address provided above.

(Photograph in poster from the Report of the Reparations Commission to the President of the Republic of the Philippines, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the National Economic Council for the period from July 23, 1956 to December 31, 1958, p. 48. Caption in the original reads: “Cobalt 60 Therapeutic Unit.–Another view of the cancer therapy machine, latest and most effective in cancer treatment, also procured by the Mission and installed at the Southern Islands Hospital, Cebu City.”)