The Historical Antecedents of the UPR School of Tropical Medicine

Raúl Mayo-Santana, Lucy Peña-Carro, Silvia E. Rabionet


This article deals with the historical antecedents of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) School of Tropical Medicine (STM) under the auspices of Columbia University. It presents a general view of the social, institutional and conceptual factors that were correlated with the establishment of the STM. The authors start by examining the historical continuities and discontinuities present during the imperial transitions between Spanish colonial and U.S. military medicine at the turn of the 20th century. The clarification of these changes is important for the proper understanding of the emergence of tropical medicine in Puerto Rico, marked by the identification of the biological determinant of the so called “peasants’ anemia.” The essay focuses on two institutional precursor events: the Puerto Rico Anemia Commissions (1904-1908) and the Institute of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (1912-1914). Their nature and work paved the way for the establishment of the STM. The notions of tropical medicine and diseases are considered as historical concepts. The support of the Rockefeller Foundation to several significant public health activities in Puerto Rico is also examined. Finally, the social and health conditions which prevailed at the time of the creation of the STM have been summarized. In general, the article provides a sense of historical context deemed essential to understand the emergence and evolution of the STM.


Colonial medicine, military medicine, public health, anemia campaigns, Rockefeller Foundation

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Published by the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus
Founded in 1982