César E. Abadía-Barrero received his degree in dentistry from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (1992) and completed his doctoral studies in medical anthropology at Harvard University (2003). His work integrates critical perspectives in the study and transformation of health inequalities. His first book, I Have AIDS But I Am Happy: Children’s Subjectivities, AIDS, and Social Responses in Brazil (2011,) explored the social paradoxes that resulted when state and non-governmental sectors partnered to effectively provide care for specific population groups, altering complex historical processes related to social inequalities in health care access and quality of care. The Brazilian response to the AIDS epidemic, which became a global model, created specialized homes for children living with or orphaned by HIV and offered access to state-of-the-art medical care to all Brazilians living with HIV. This commitment to caring for people living with HIV forced the Brazilian state to confront the for-profit interest of transnational pharmaceutical companies. The book takes up the question of what happens when a “disease of poverty” is met with a “privileged response,” and explores the paradox that, within Brazil’s regime of care, children living with HIV are better off than children who are only “at risk” of becoming infected. Based on detailed ethnographic research conducted with children and adults in everyday life activities at shelters, neighborhood, schools, trips and health care facilities in São Paulo, the book speak to the ways in which children affected by the epidemic grow up confronting a series of life options, family configurations, and institutional programs.

Since 2005, César has conducted activist and collaborative research on the impacts of health care reform in Colombia, which underwent the most aggressive neoliberal, market-based reform in the world. Within this context, he has studied the effectiveness of legal mechanisms for the protection of the constitutional right to health care. He has researched how for-profit interests transform access, continuity, and quality of care, and alter clinical, moral, and judicial understandings of what health care and the right to health should encompass.

His current book project, Health Ruins: The Closure and Privatization of a Legendary University Hospital, builds on over ten years of collaborative ethnographic research conducted with patients, workers, and professors at the Instituto Materno Infantil (IMI), Colombia’s oldest maternal-child health center and university hospital and an icon of modern medicine throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The book provides multiple examples of how the country’s market-based health care reform was experienced and resisted at the hospital, and how neoliberal policies transformed the practice of medicine in Colombia. By digging into the hospital’s history, this ethnographic research clarifies that even though public university hospitals and public medical education never received adequate state funding, they were central to the fragmented and partial welfare state project of the mid-twentieth century. With the advent of neoliberal health care reforms, not only were projects with a public orientation forced to compromise their health standards and overexploit health workers by adopting for-profit principles, but they were pushed to bankruptcy due to unfavorable competition and corruption. Workers and professors at the IMI, however, were stubborn. While trying to play by the new market-based rules, they maintained high-standards of medical care. The ethnography explores powerful, violent mechanisms by which the new for-profit structure of the system, based on the intermediation of insurance companies and supported by the state, destroyed the hospital and its workers, with transcendental implications for the future of health and medical education.

Area focus

Colombia and Brazil


Courses in Medical Anthropology. Power, illness and healing. Social Science Theory. Marxist Anthropology. Social Movements. Health and Human Rights. Health Care Systems. Legal and moral issues in health. Participatory and activist oriented research. Latin America.

Cultural Anthropology Courses
ANTH3098. Anthropology of Capitalism
ANTH3098/HRTS3298. The Right to Health in Latin America
ANTH3021/LLAS3021. Contemporary Latin America
ANTH3326/HRTS3326. Global Health and Human Rights
ANTH5305. Life in Capitalism: Destruction, Profits
ANTH5305. The Value of Life in Global Markets

Medical Anthropology Courses
ANTH3098/HRTS3298/LLAS3998. Power and the Right to Health in Latin America
ANTH3326/HRTS3326. Global Health & Human Rights
ANTH5305. The Value of Life in Global Markets


Selected publications:

You can download these publications from ResearchGate.

Abadía-Barrero, C. Neoliberal Justice and the Transformation of the Moral: The Privatization of the Right to Health Care in Colombia. 2015. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 30(1): 62-79. doi: 10.1111/maq.12161

Abadía-Barrero, C. The Transformation of the Value of Life: Dispossession as Torture. 2015. Medical Anthropology. Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness. 34(5): 389-406. doi:10.1080/01459740.2015.1048859.

Abadía-Barrero C. and Martínez A. Care and Consumption: A Latin American Social Medicine’s Conceptual Framework to Comprehend Oral Health Inequalities. 2016. Global Public Health. online first. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2016.1171377

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Melo Moreno, M. Repensar la Salud desde una Academia Critica y Comprometida. Vida, Acumulación y Emancipación. [Rethinking Health from a Committed and Critical Academia. Life, Accumulation and Emancipation] 2014. Revista Gerencia y Políticas en Salud. 13(17): 41-57. http://dx.doi.org/10.11144/Javeriana.rgyps13-27.rsda

Horton, S. Abadía-Barrero, C. Mulligan, J. and Thompson J. Critical Anthropology of Global Health ‘Takes a Stand’ Statement: A Critical Medical Anthropological Approach to the US’ Affordable Care Act. 2014. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 28(1): 1-22. DOI: 10.1111maq.12065

Abadía-Barrero, C. Shaw Crane Emma and Ruíz, C. Defending the Right to Health in Colombia. 2012. NACLA Report on the Americas. Summer 2012 45(2): 70-73

Quevedo-Gómez, M.C. Krumeich, A. Abadía-Barrero, C. Pastrana-Salcedo, E.M.; Van den Borne, H.W. Machismo, public health and sexuality-related stigma: 2012. Culture, Health and Sexuality. 14(2): 223-235.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Oviedo, D. Bureaucratic Itineraries. A proposal for understanding Managed-Care Health Care System from the Colombian citizen’s perspectives. 2009. Social Science & Medicine. Vol 68 No 6, pp. 1153-1160.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Oviedo, D. Intersubjetividades Estructuradas: La Salud en Colombia como Dilema Epistemológico y Político para las Ciencias Sociales. [Structured Intersubjectivities. Health as a Social Sciences Political and Epistemological Dilemma] 2008. Universitas Humanística. Vol 66. Julio-Diciembre, pp. 57-82.

Abadía-Barrero, C. and LaRusso M. The Disclosure Model versus a Developmental Illness Experience Model for Children and Adolescents Living with HIV/AIDS in São Paulo, Brazil. 2006. AIDS Patient Care and STDs. Vol 20, No. 1, pp. 36-43

Abadía-Barrero, C. and Castro A. Experiences of Stigma and Access to HAART in Children and Adolescents Living with HIV/AIDS in Brazil. 2006. Social Science & Medicine. Vol 62, March, pp. 1219-1228.