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Decolonising global health in 2021: a roadmap to move from rhetoric to reform
  1. Mishal Khan1,
  2. Seye Abimbola2,
  3. Tammam Aloudat3,
  4. Emanuele Capobianco4,
  5. Sarah Hawkes5,
  6. Afifah Rahman-Shepherd1
  1. 1Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  2. 2School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Médecins Sans Frontières, Geneva, Switzerland
  4. 4International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Geneva, Switzerland
  5. 5Institute for Global Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mishal Khan; mishal.khan{at}

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Decolonising global health was a hot topic in 2020. It was the subject of more than 50 academic articles between January and December 2020, appeared as a new area covered in numerous conferences, and featured in public statements by leaders of global health organisations.

Although its aims have not been formally defined, we see ‘decolonising global health’ as a movement that fights against ingrained systems of dominance and power in the work to improve the health of populations, whether this occurs between countries, including between previously colonising and plundered nations, and within countries, for example the privileging of what Connell calls research-based knowledge formation over the lived experience of people themselves.1 2 It is well documented—although often overlooked—that global health has evolved from colonial and tropical medicine, which were ‘designed to control colonised populations and make political and economic exploitation by European and North American powers easier’.3 The operations of many organisations active in global health thus perpetuate the very power imbalances they claim to rectify, through colonial and extractive attitudes, and policies and practices that concentrate resources, expertise, data and branding within high-income country (HIC) institutions.4 5

As a group of global health practitioners from different backgrounds, we reflect on our personal and professional experiences of systems and processes that institutionalise power imbalances. In this article, we propose a roadmap for global health practitioners, like us, who want to see rhetoric turn into reforms, focusing on systemic changes needed in organisations led from HICs. This is important now, because the flurry of statements and virtue signalling in 2020, could, in …

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