Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature a series of articles discussing drug use in Africa. These articles originally appeared on The Conversation, but we’re republishing them here as well. Today’s article comes from Julie Parle, Honorary Professor in History, University of KwaZulu-Natal.
In the early 1960s, pharmacists and government authorities were of the view that South Africa had experienced key aspects of a ‘pharmaceutical revolution’ over the course of the previous 40 years.
These were fulcrum decades in South African medicines’ history in which newly invented medicines became critically important. Most of the new therapeutic substances in high demand were antibiotics. But the class of drugs comprising synthetic hypnotics, sedatives and tranquillisers were also important.
As early as the 1930s these substances – especially barbiturates – posed challenges to those who sought their control. Enmeshed in multiple issues of chemical, commercial, professional, and regulatory deﬁnition, timid controls were proposed in 1937. But even these failed to gain support, facilitating a permissive market for those who could aﬀord the new drugs. These were, by and large, white South Africans.