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A house for research and teaching of the history of health

August 9, 2011

Oswaldo Cruz Foundation – by  Paulo Gadelha and Nara Azevedo

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) was established in May 1900 in Rio de Janeiro – under the name of the Federal Serotherapeutic Institute – with a mission to combat the major problems of Brazilian public health and develop experimental medicine. To this end, the Foundation took shape as a reference point for health promotion and social development, generating and diffusing scientific and technological knowledge, always focused on the pursuit of knowledge of the of the country’s true condition. Attached to the Ministry of Health, Fiocruz is the most prominent institution of science and technology in health in Latin America.

At the main Fiocruz campus in Rio de Janeiro, nine of the fifteen technical- scientific units and all the technical and administrative support units work around the three historic buildings of the former Federal Serotherapeutic Institute: the Moorish Pavilion, the Pavilion of the Clock and the Stable. Other units and offices are located in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Recife, Fortaleza, Manaus, Porto Velho Campo Grande, Curitiba and Brasilia, which gives the institution a national character. In 2009, Fiocruz opened an office for technical cooperation in Maputo, Mozambique.

Oswaldo Cruz by H Franz, 1911. Casa de Oswaldo Cruz Historical Archives, Fiocruz

Oswaldo Cruz by H Franz, 1911. Casa de Oswaldo Cruz Historical Archives, Fiocruz

Fiocruz houses a broad range of activities: development of research in many fields; provision of hospital and ambulance health reference services; manufacture of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics; education and training; information and communication in health, science and technology; quality control for products and services; and implementation of social programmes. In the 21st century, Fiocruz seeks to face the old and new health challenges with scientific and technological innovation programmes. There are over 8000 professionals dedicated to promoting science, health and citizenship.

Founded in 1985, the House of Oswaldo Cruz (Casa de Oswaldo Cruz) is a Fiocruz technical-scientific unit dedicated to preserving the institution’s memory in all its dimensions and to other activities such as research, teaching, documentation and dissemination of the history of medicine, public health and biomedical sciences in Brazil. Its establishment and membership of a public health institution has been strongly linked to the process of democratisation in Brazil after 21 years of military dictatorship ended in 1985, a process in which the struggle for democratic reform of Brazilian public health was a crucial component. The House was a bold proposal: to include historical research and activities that aimed at preserving the memory of health and life sciences at an institution recognised, nationally and internationally, for its thorough dedication to biomedical research and public health. For this achievement, the activism of the group of sanitarians and doctors who ran Fiocruz from 1985 was decisive, as was their understanding that history and public health are closely interconnected in the search for knowledge of social, political and cultural processes related to the production of disease and health promotion. The preservation of memory and public health history were valued also as tools for analysis of historical processes that produce professional identities, to understand the present, support institutional strategic planning and reveal possible alternative paths of actions and health policies. Research into the history of science and health began with the creation of the House of Oswaldo Cruz in 1985. In 2001, Master’s and doctoral programmes in these subjects were established. Over its 25 years, the House has expanded the activities to many areas such as science education and dissemination, with the creation of the Museum of Life, information management and publishing of the scientific journal History, Science and Health – Manguinhos.

Taking a multidisciplinary perspective, the Department of Research in the History of Science and Health and the Postgraduate Program in History of Science and Health have trained teachers and doctors who have produced works on a wide range of subjects, among them: race, slavery and health; care and healing practices; social representations of illness; social thinking in health; medicine and its specialties; psychiatry and psychological knowledge; gender and science; microbiology and tropical medicine; career paths, nature and environment; travel and scientific expeditions; international relations in science and health; and actions and programmes of prevention, control and eradication of diseases.

Paulo Gadelha is President of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and a Researcher and Professor. Nara Azevedo is Director of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, and a Researcher and Professor in the Postgraduate Programme in the History of Sciences and Health.

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