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[Series] State humanitarian verticalism versus universal health coverage: a century of French international health assistance revisited

The French contribution to global public health over the past two centuries has been marked by a fundamental tension between two approaches: State-provided universal free health care and what we propose to call State humanitarian verticalism. Both approaches have historical roots in French colonialism and have led to successes and failures that continue until the present day. In this paper, the second in The Lancet’s Series on France, we look at how this tension has evolved. During the French colonial period (1890s to 1950s), the Indigenous Medical Assistance structure was supposed to bring metropolitan France’s model of universal and free public health care to the colonies, and French State imperial humanitarianism crystallised in vertical programmes inspired by Louis Pasteur, while vying with early private humanitarian activism in health represented by Albert Schweitzer.

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