Global Health Research Needs More Than a Makeover


From Forbes: “During the 1990s, I was doing my medical training in India. Those days, we had a steady stream of American and European students visiting our medical school. They would stay for a few weeks, work on short-term projects, and go back home to publish their research in international journals. None of us got to publish much, despite the fact that we (the locals) had lived experience in dealing with the problems under study, and had deeper insights than our visitors could have gained in a few weeks.

Have we come a long way since my training days? Not quite. Research shows that global health is still struggling to shed its colonial past. This is reflected in who drives the research agenda, who dominates authorship, and who edits the research . . .

In this context, Seye Abimbola, editor of BMJ Global Health, has written an important piece called ‘The Foreign Gaze,’ where he attempts to unpack the imbalances in academic global health.

Abimbola begins by quoting Toni Morrison, who wrote: ‘Our lives have no meaning, no depth without the white gaze. And I have spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books.’ By rejecting the ‘white gaze, Ms Morrison helped black people see themselves in their own stories.

According to Abimbola, there is a similar problem of gaze at the heart of academic global health. He prefers to replace the word ‘white’ with the word ‘foreign’ . . .

‘It is very easy to submit to the colonial conditioning of global health. So, it is important that we become more aware of these often subtle, but consequential choices we make as authors, and feel free enough to talk about them in the open,’ he says.”

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  1. Fascinating overlap from researchers across Globe by HedtGauthier et al (Academic promotion policies and equity in global health collaborations. Lancet 2018; 392: 1608–09) and Abimbola (The foreign
    gaze: authorship in academic global health. BMJ Global Health 2019;4:e002068) and our latest Sibai et al (North-South inequities in research collaboration in humanitarian and conflict contexts. Lancet 2019; 394:1597-600). Unethical inequitable practices continue.
    Action is needed.

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