As a site for ‘cutting edge’ research, virology has a profoundly conservative genealogy, its promulgations on the origins of viral disease intimately wrapped in prognostications on the ending of human life. Since the late 19th century, a concern for the reach of pathogenic viral matter into human bodies has emerged as a deeply colonial project, with fears over the transformation of endemic diseases into epidemic ones conjoined with cautions of population decline in the colonies and disrupted trade routes. Colonial authorities in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America framed viral disease as a ‘public health’ problem – a problem articulated in concert with that model for philanthropocapitalism, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). The RF, working with university researchers, local government officers, media and elites pursued public health through the monitoring and control of viral hosts, vectors and their ecologies, and the global circulation of experts, lively materials such as samples and sentinel species, and experimental techniques. Grounded in the teaching of schools of tropical medicine, and specialist virus research centers that allowed for f ield-based experiments into viral reservoirs as well as laboratory work, viral research was valued as offering a safer future even as it sat alongside the structural violence of colonialism manifest in lives truncated by chronic (non-communicable) disease, expropriation, dispossession, alienation and the radical reshaping of rural and urban environments for profit. The lifeaffirming rhetoric of health, so often the basis for policy, has long obscured what was in fact a selective nurturing of some, and, indeed, the suffering of the many that such policies have often helped engender (Laurie, 2015).

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