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Lecture: “Health Inequities, embodied sovereignty and the politics of COVID management in the French Caribbean”
February 20 @ 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Presented by: NAVE Visiting Scholar, Raphaelle Rabanes, Assistant Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle
About the presentation: Responses to the COVID pandemic and its mitigation measures have varied greatly throughout the world, revealing pre-existing structural and social conditions in each locality. This presentation unpacks the response to French public health management in the Caribbean archipelago of Guadeloupe. After a first year of the pandemic during which Guadeloupe remained relatively protected, the return of air travel and French tourists led to a devastating surge of COVID-19 cases in August and September 2021. This surge revealed what many Guadeloupean health workers and organizers knew already: the local health infrastructure couldn’t fully meet the needs of the population. Soon after, France implemented vaccine mandates for all health workers throughout France, including its overseas regions. Nearly five percent of health workers in Guadeloupe were suspended without pay, in a context where the majority of Guadeloupeans had refused vaccination. Many saw vaccine mandates as the latest state-imposed decision where French objectives took precedence over the life of Guadeloupeans. In this context, many health workers still refuse vaccination and remain suspended a year later. They defend a form of marronage—an emancipation from health regulations and the rebuilding of a place to care for the population outside the walls of the hospital. Rather than classifying their position as vaccine hesitancy, I take seriously the conflicting logics at play and trace how they have led to an increased opposition between the categories of biomedicine and natural remedies, despite a strong need for their integration. I also reflect on the possibilities and difficulties of marronage in a non-sovereign context.