The impact of colonialism on health and health services in Tanzania

Int J Health Serv. 1977;7(1):7-35. doi: 10.2190/L9G4-KJVK-AW7A-Q9JD.


This article is about the problems of malnutrition and disease in a rural area of an underdeveloped country, Tanzania. The particular way in which health problems were conceptualized during the colonial era, the structure of the medical services established, and the effects of health care on the health status and size of the rural population of Songea District in Tanzania are shown in the article to have been determined by the economic, social, and political requirements of German and British colonial rulers rather than by the health needs of the African population. Colonial economic policy emphasized the production of cash crops for export, whether by African peasant farmers or by European plantation owners. To provide workers for the plantations, a system of labor migration was instituted. Songea District became an area that supplied male workers to other parts of the country, with grave consequences to the health and nutrition of the women and children left behind. Domestic food production was neglected by Africans forced to migrate in search of cash to pay taxes and by those enganged in the cultivation of cash crops. Extensive malnutrition and persistent ill health related to poor diet are thus traced directly to capitalist underdevelopment of th Tanzanian economy and the structural distortions of a dependent relationship between Tanzania and the metropolitan power.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agriculture / history
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Diet
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Female
  • History of Medicine
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Politics
  • Population Density
  • Public Health
  • Tanzania
  • Transients and Migrants
  • Tropical Medicine / history*
  • Trypanosomiasis / epidemiology