Decolonizing Global Health Conference 2019

Decolonizing Global Health:

A Student Conference at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

February 8th, 2019

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

8:30 AM to 8:00 PM

Over the past two decades, the field of global health has become extremely popular, while remaining relatively ill-defined. Proposed definitions are generally depoliticized and include invocations of trans-national health issues and collaborations. Yet global health is only the newest iteration of what was formerly “international health”, “tropical medicine” and “colonial medicine”. The historical roots of global health lie in European colonial endeavors and imperial interests. Just as those reflected the unequal power relations of that time, global health reflects the unequal relations of present. North American and European universities, including Harvard, play a big role in this nebulous field. While “global” invokes universalism, the reality is that it is a deeply unequal project. With exceptions, global health departments in North America and Europe seem to be the place to do research on low-income, formerly colonized countries, in often apolitical, ahistorical, and un-critical ways. Moreover, large amounts of global health funding come from former colonial powers or philanthropists, and the very processes that gave rise to their wealth others’ impoverishment – colonial, capitalist and environmental exploitation – remain unchallenged.

This conference aims to help change that status quo. We want to ask reflexive and difficult questions. What does it mean to engage in this field without acknowledging and tackling the history of colonial plunder? What does it mean to not acknowledge the role of global capitalism in generating the unequal conditions that manifest as health and disease? How can we as practitioners of ‘global health’ – a debatable term that either needs redefining or abandonment – learn, know, teach and do based on the kind of society we want to see, not the one that we currently have? Our specific goals include:

  • Building a community of students interested in critical engagement with the practice of global health
  • Engaging with students and practitioners on concrete means through which global health can be anti-colonial
  • Understanding the history of global health in colonial and military endeavors, and also resistance against these forces
  • Imagining alternative futures of “global health” that can incorporate various non-hegemonic views including anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism
  • Providing a space for students and practitioners to showcase their work on decolonization

Our expected collaborators and participants are an interdisciplinary group. We hope to bring together students from various fields and levels, public health practitioners, scholars and activists. The event will be open to the public to extend discussions beyond our institution. Interested students are likely to be those opposed to the status quo of inequitable “global health”; dedicated to health as a human right; and those working on anti-colonial projects and looking for a robust interdisciplinary community that can provide guidance, critiques, and growth. The conference will be a step towards creating a student community committed to a vision of global health that is equitable, reflexive, and anti-colonial in both delivery and discourse.