Managing the ‘Pissing Evil’ in Welfare Dictatorship: Diabetes prevention, care and research in the German Democratic Republic, 1950-1990
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing chronic diseases in the world today. Not only is it the archetypal ‘chronic’ disease in the sense that it is long-lasting, manageable and incurable, it is also extremely costly on account of the ease with which diabetics can develop complications if they do not manage their disease properly. Commonly associated with affluence, choice and consumption, diabetes has been an important subject of historical interest in its own right. Existing historiography on diabetes and chronic disease(s) more broadly have gravitated towards the ‘Western’, liberal democracies of the United States, France, West Germany and Britain. Whilst this is a logical step, the absence of a developed, state socialist country behind the Iron Curtain with a strong interest in its diabetic population is glaring.
This thesis is therefore seeking to address the gap in our historical knowledge on chronic disease under state socialism by examining the management of diabetes in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). It will centre on key strands of diabetes care (diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation), seeking to establish links between these and the political goals present within the GDR’s centralised healthcare system, such as prevention and economic determinism. It will explore a number of important institutions as sites for diabetes care, which include the Soviet-inspired polyclinics, a boarding school for diabetic children, and the large Institute for Diabetes ‘Gerhardt Katsch’ in Karlsburg on the North East coast, where internationally-recognised research into diabetes was conducted. The views of patients in particular are vital to this project in order to assess what it was like to live with a disease that requires a high level of control in a society infamous for its intricate surveillance network. Medical professionals will also be consulted about their role in diabetes care and research.