Halfdan Mahler (1923-2016) comes down as one of the most prolific Director-Generals of the World Health Organization (WHO). His name is closely associated with the drive towards ‘Primary Health Care’, a programme he vigorously promoted during his fifteen-year tenure 1973-1988. While ‘primary health care’ must be understood as a product of many contexts, this talk will look at the importance of Mahler and particularly the years he spent in India in the 1950s as WHO medical officer to tuberculosis control projects. The talk will consider Mahler’s encounters with, first, the high modernist ideology of large-scale planning and, second, with a distinct Indian discourse on social medicine in order to understand how the years in India formed his views on health and contributed to shape the ideas of the primary health care programme.

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