Published: 11/30/2022

By Jamie Hansen, Communications Manager at the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health

Now is the time for global health leaders to come together to make long-needed shifts in how global collaborative research and scholarship is conducted, write the authors of a recent publication in Annals of Global Health.

The publication, “What Do Global Health Practitioners Think about Decolonizing Global Health?” reviews the status of efforts to decolonize Global Health — that is, to make the field more equitable by disrupting funding, research, and authorship practices left over from colonialism that have long favored high-income countries and reinforced existing inequities. It was authored by global health leaders from a mix of high- and low-and-middle-income countries (HICs and LMICs), including CIGH Director Dr. Michele Barry.

The publication includes results from a survey of HIC and LMIC global health practitioners affiliated with the Consortium of Universities of Global Health and AFREHealth. While the authors acknowledged the survey’s limits (an overall low response rate and low response rate among LMICs), they found a general consensus of the problems in the current system that should be addressed. These included the need for greater equity in authorship, leadership, and funding.

Achieving this will require a deliberate effort by the global health community to include all stakeholders and ensure consensus around the basic goals, principals, and best practices for global partnerships.

“What is on the table is as important as who is around the table,” the authors write. “A universal definition of ‘decolonization of global health’ should be made with input from many different stakeholders and disciplines.”

COVID-19, for all its challenges, has revealed opportunities for decolonization, they go on to say: “The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated a shift in global collaborative research. As travel from HICs was restricted and HIC partners focused more on their home-country needs, many LMIC collaborators seized the opportunity to demonstrate strong, independent leadership of their programs. These dynamics have increased momentum to decolonization and underscore the need to recalibrate power relationships to improve global health.”

The publication calls for the Global Health community to seize this current moment of opportunity to make meaningful change: “The cost of inaction is too high to ignore and preserving the status quo should not be an option. If we do not heed the calls put forward to decolonize global health, we will squander the opportunity to make the system more equitable.”