Global Health Justice

November 7, 2023

Rewriting the Script of Global Health

By Ikenna Onoh

In the heart of Rwanda, a pharmaceutical revolution is unfolding, disrupting a global health order long dominated by high-income nations. This bold move by a nation determined to chart its own course in healthcare sovereignty embodies the spirit of decolonizing global health. It serves as a testament to the possibility of a world where equity in health is not just an aspirational goal but an actionable reality. This narrative of empowerment and systemic change ignites the conversation around decolonizing global health, challenging the status quo and demanding a reimagining of global health paradigms.

The momentum for change has generated an upsurge of academic papers, conferences, and advocacy. Students in high-income countries are demanding curricula that imbue them with a critical, historical, and anti-colonial understanding of global health. In response, institutions like the Consortium of Universities for Global Health mobilized working groups that integrate perspectives from various geographies and backgrounds, including indigenous voices. Such initiatives are seminal in redefining the norms and values that underpin global health, providing platforms for more balanced knowledge creation and decision-making to meet people’s needs, rather than create profits.

Efforts like Oxfam’s move to Kenya exemplify a practical reorientation of power within global health organizations, challenging the convention of centralized leadership and signaling a shift toward a system that accepts leadership from lower-income countries. Coalitions across various justice movements will counter the inertia of entrenched power structures and the vested interests that sustain them.

A critical examination of the mechanisms that uphold the current global health order is indispensable. True systemic change will only be possible by understanding how these structures came to be and how they can be strategically dismantled. Historical institutional theory suggests that by comprehending the construction of these systems, advocates for decolonizing global health are better positioned to deconstruct them, laying the groundwork for new systems based on equity and social justice — good riddance to the colonial legacies that have long shaped and hindered global health.