MUSTS colloquium with Alice Street (University of Edinburgh) on March 23

Wednesday March 23, 15:30-17:00

This event will take place in hybrid form.

If you would like to attend as non-MUSTS member, please register by sending an email to: j{dot}bruyninckx{at}maastrichtuniversity{dot}nl


What’s deemed possible in the wake of failure? This paper takes two failures of “access” in global health —the failure to extend state laboratory infrastructures to the level of primary care, and the biotech industry’s failure to develop diagnostic tests for the global poor—and explores the doctrine of humanitarian entrepreneurship that has emerged in their wake. The combination of humanitarian and commercial ethics that underpin endeavours of humanitarian entrepreneurship are traced through the rise and fall of a single humanitarian diagnostic device, the Daktari CD4 machine, a portable HIV testing device, that was developed by a biotech start-up company in Boston USA in the 2010s. Ultimately, Daktari’s founders were unable to align the milestone-based temporalities of capital investment with the incrementalism of humanitarian design, and today the only remaining Daktari machines can be found in the basements of the company’s founders rather than HIV treatment clinics in Africa. Yet this is not simply another story of biotech hype and speculation; the generation of promissory value at the expense of actual things. Instead, the paper examines the hopes and values that employees invested in the device itself, its material manufacture and distribution. Failure, it might be said, was determined precisely by people’s prioritisation of the thing over the firm. What, I ask, is the meaning of failure, and its material remnants, when it is measured against humanitarian rather than solely commercial expectations? The paper concludes with some reflections on the aftermath of failure in humanitarian entrepreneurship and the questions that it poses for our understandings of what is possible and desirable in global health.