"We must ask uncomfortable questions": Notes from Decolonizing Global Health 2020

Published February 25, 2020 under Education News

Written by Mary Brophy Marcus

Decolonizing Global Health speakers and organizers gathered for a portrait at the close of the January 2020 event. Photo by Ahmad Tejan-Sie.

Decolonizing Global Health speakers and organizers gathered for a portrait at the close of the January 2020 event. Photo by Ahmad Tejan-Sie.

“We must ask uncomfortable questions.”

—Yadurshini Raveendran, second-year Duke global health master’s student and co-founder of Duke Decolonizing Global Health 2020

“Equality doesn’t seem to be human nature. We have to keep working at it.”

—Amy Locklear Hertel, MSW, JD, PhD, chief of staff to the chancellor and clinical assistant professor, School of Social Work, UNC

“I'd rather not assume that where a person lives or is from is the key to their worldview.”

—Seye Abimbola, MD, PhD, editor, BMJ Global Health

“Understand that having researchers and staff who may identify with the community does not mean they represent them.”

—Allysha Maragh-Bass, PhD, MPH, scientist at FHI360 and adjunct faculty at George Washington Milken Institute School of Public Health

“One hundred percent of malaria conferences are held in Europe where there is no malaria. And so often, those from countries that have high malaria rates can't get visas to go to those meetings.”

—Madhukar Pai, director, McGill Global Health Programs

I'd rather not assume that where a person lives or is from is the key to their worldview.

Seye Abimbola, MD, PhD — GH 2020 speaker, Editor, BMJ Global Health

These are just some of the thoughts shared a few weeks ago at Duke's student-organized “Decolonizing Global Health 2020” conference. The Jan. 31 event at Love Auditorium was packed with students, faculty, staff and visitors.

“It was a blazing success,” professor Kearsley Stewart said afterward, noting that the meeting drew an audience of more than 250 people and that another 500 people from around the world live-streamed the conference. The number of remote attendees was probably even larger due to some watch parties, added Stewart, who has appointments in the Duke Global Health Institute and the Department of Cultural Anthropology.

The day's topic—decolonization—is defined as “a process of dismantling systemic injustices related to race and gender that stem from legacies of colonial hierarchies, on individual, collective, and systems levels" according to Andrea Koris, a conference co-founder and second-year student in the MS in Global Health program at Duke.

Throughout the event, speakers shared their perspectives on the decolonization of global health, from the history of the field and the structural inequities at its origins to stigmatizing language used in academia, research, and journal publications. They discussed funding imbalances and the preponderance of global health conferences held in high income countries, among other issues. Break-out panels and questions from the audience allowed for lively discussion.

The speakers included:

“The goal of global health is to reduce health inequities. And the goal of decolonizing global health is to reduce inequities within the practice of global health and to minimize the furthering of inequities through the practice of global health,” Stewart said.

The original goal of the co-founders was that the conference be a "safe space” for discourse about decolonization in the field of global health and it seemed genuinely achieved by the close of the 6-hour event. Even after the lectures and panels wrapped up, clusters of people stayed on to take photos and to continue dialogues that had been started earlier that day... hallmarks of a successful gathering.

 

DGHI thanks all who organized and attended.

To learn more about the event, visit the conference website. To read live tweets from the conference, search #DecolonizeGH2020 on Twitter. A video recording of the meeting will be available and posted here soon.

All photos: Ahmad Tejan-Sie

Image
Seye Abimbola

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