In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Health Care in 20th-Century Mexico

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Sanitation and Public Health Campaigns
  • Public Health Experts
  • Hospitals, Institutions, and Research
  • Individual Professional Trajectories
  • Hygiene, Health Education, and Health Promotion
  • Maternity and Child Health
  • Rural Health
  • Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing, and Ethnicity
  • Nutrition and Diet
  • Mental Health, Psychiatry, and La Castañeda
  • Health Care, Cinema, and Murals
  • Social Security, the Welfare State, and Neoliberal Reforms

Latin American Studies Health Care in 20th-Century Mexico
Claudia Agostoni
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0276


Since the 1980s different scholars from diverse disciplines have increasingly studied the prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical and allied health professions during the course of the twentieth century. Anthropologists, sociologists, and historians in particular have contributed to the enrichment, reassessment, and discussion of the important official and traditional approaches that prevailed in the study of the institutions and professionals of health care. Among the topics that have been progressively examined, the following stand out: the greater state intervention in health care, not as an inevitable result of the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) and of the 1917 Constitution, but as the outcome of a prolonged process that began during the course of the final decades of the nineteenth century and that acquired particular strength during the Porfirio Díaz regime (1877–1910). Likewise, more attention has been given to the study of the political, economic, social, and epidemiological contexts that encouraged the health-care institutions (Consejo Superior de Salubridad [1841–1917], Departamento de Salubridad Pública [1917–1943], Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia [1943–1984], Secretaría de Salud [1984 to date]) to contain, control, or eradicate specific endemic, epidemic, and chronic diseases in both urban and rural settings. Furthermore, the construction of hospitals, the dynamics of medical and nursing specialization, the conformation of a fragmented and highly unequal welfare system, and the convergence and debates among nonofficial medical and official health-care practices and practitioners have become important areas of historical research. However, the contributions published in recent decades also illustrate significant gaps in the literature, which have occurred due to the preponderance of Mexico City and other major cities in specialized literature, and the fact that health care was not, until recent decades, a field of considerable interest among professional historians. This article includes studies that begin during the late nineteenth century, in particular during the Porfiro Díaz regime, when public health became an integral part of public power. It also includes studies that examine how the health-care system was oriented by biomedicine and professionalization, in particular after the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), as well as the relevance of hospitals, clinics, and different public health services and campaigns implemented between the 1930s and 1960s. Finally, this text concludes by making reference to some key studies that examine the 1980s neoliberal health and welfare reforms that began to privilege treatment over prevention in addition to cost-effective health-care interventions.

General Overviews

Few studies provide general overviews of the history of health care in 20th-century Mexico. Fajardo Ortíz, et al. 2002 examines the most important trends and moments; Soto Laveaga and Agostoni 2011 and Rodríguez de Romo and Rodríguez Pérez 1998 provide concise overviews that include both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Llamas 1984, an edited collection, addresses rural health initiatives and programs. Cueto and Palmer 2015 presents novel interpretations that consider the national and international institutions and actors that shaped the unequal access to health care in Latin America, including Mexico during the course of the twentieth century.

  • Carrillo, Ana María. “Salud pública y poder en México durante el Cardenismo, 1934–1940.” Dynamis: Acta Hispanica ad Medicinae Scientiarumque Historiam Illustrandam 25 (2005): 145–178.

    Examines the relevance that public health policies and programs had during Lázaro Cárdenas del Río’s government (1934–1940).

  • Cueto, Marcos, and Steven Palmer. Medicine and Public Health in Latin America: A History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    Detailed, comprehensive, and original assessment of the history of medicine and public health in Latin America with numerous references to Mexico’s health-care system and practitioners during the course of the twentieth century.

  • Fajardo Ortíz, Guillermo, Ana María Carrillo, and Rolando Neri Vela. Perspectiva histórica de atención a la salud en México 1902–2002. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2002.

    Useful synthesis of some of the main public health problems, policies, and programs implemented during the course of the twentieth century.

  • Llamas, Héctor Hernandez, ed. La atención médica rural en México: 1930–1980. Mexico City: Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, 1984.

    Edited volume that approaches rural health problems, actors, and institutions written by public health officials and physicians that participated in those programs.

  • Rodríguez de Romo, Ana Cecilia, and Martha Eugenia Rodríguez Pérez. “Historia de la salud pública en México: Siglos XIX y XX.” História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos 5.2 (1998): 293–310.

    DOI: 10.1590/S0104-59701998000200002

    A pioneering study of the changing notions, actors, and institutions of health care, health assistance, social responsibility, social security, and welfare during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

  • Soto Laveaga, Gabriela, and Claudia Agostoni. “Science and Public Health in the Century of Revolution.” In A Companion to Mexican History and Culture. Edited by William H. Beezley, 561–574. Blackwell Companions to World History. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444340600.ch33

    A brief study that distinguishes and organizes the most relevant public health problems, actors, institutions and interventions during the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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