HHH autumn meeting 2021: Medical history meets global health

On September 3, 2021, we welcomed about 80 participants to the online HHH autumn meeting – a large audience consisting of both members and international global health students from Erasmus University and Maastricht University. On this page you find a short outline of the meeting and recordings of the lectures of the three speakers: keynote speakers Dr. Felicity Thomas (University of Exeter) and Dr. Seye Abimbola (Utrecht University / University of Sydney), and historical referent Dr. Sandra Khor Manickam (Erasmus University).

Over the past decades, local, regional and global issues have also increasingly captured the attention of historians working on health and healthcare. Not only in the sense that historians can unravel the long history of “local biologies” and health practices, but it is also important with an eye to the future. As Mark Jackson states in A Global History of Medicine,  “writing histories of medicine that manage to hold global, regional, and local experiences and perceptions within the same frame (…) becomes pivotal not only to understanding the complexity of the past, but also to analysing and critiquing persistent inequalities in health and confronting the power and privilege that still inflect our health and medicine”.

Yet, working on global histories of medicine also brings new challenges. How should we understand ‘the global’? How to connect the global to local practices? How to deal with borders and boundaries between countries, the global south and the global north, between different traditions of writing about global health? This was the theme of the HHH autumn meeting on September 3, 2021.

Why culture matters in global health

By Dr. Felicity Thomas (co-director WHO Collaborating Centre for Culture and Health, University of Exeter)

Our experiences of health and wellbeing and our interactions with those who care for us are fundamentally influenced by the cultural contexts from which we make meaning. From the symbolic and social signifiers attached to the products we consume, to the attitudes and beliefs that influence the success or failure of a vaccination programme, and our understandings of and responses to mental illness, culture matters.

This presentation draws on work developed in collaboration with the WHO Europe’s Cultural Contexts of Health project to examine how shared beliefs, practices and values, especially when linked to cultures of global governance and regulation, can have profound impacts on individual health and wellbeing.

The uses of knowledge in global health

By Dr. Seye Abimbola (Prince Claus Chair on Justice in Global Health Research, Utrecht University / University of Sydney)

As a field, “global health” seeks to achieve equity in (the circumstances that create) health within or between countries. But its academic literature is often not aligned to the political reality of what it takes to achieve equity, partly due to its colonial and biomedical origins. It proceeds as though the knowledge needed to achieve equity consists primarily in knowledge about discrete, episodic, and tangible technological or plumbing solutions – a status quo that reflects pervasive mis-ordering of value.

This talk will propose potential principles (e.g. the principle of subsidiarity) on which efforts to reform academic global health may be constructed, so that its knowledge systems and platforms are more aligned to its equity mission, and so that its knowledge infrastructure is built to be responsive to the knowledge needs of and the knowledge held by proximate/local (rather than distant/foreign) actors in their day-to-day efforts to promote equity, especially through emancipatory solutions.

Medical history meets global health

Comments by historical referent Dr. Sandra Manickam (Erasmus University Rotterdam)