The Covid-19 pandemic has found global health at a crossroads: in the prolonged crisis, global health agencies are contending with eroding public trust and rapidly-spreading misinformation; gross economic inequality coupled with growing precarity, and weakened international collaboration. The role of the World Health Organization (WHO) is called into question. Global social movements are also insisting on long-overdue structural change: this includes racialized and gendered inequalities that undermine health globally and that have been exposed within global health agencies themselves. The stress of the pandemic has exposed the fragile foundation of the global health system, which was built on soft norms, voluntary cooperation and trust.
In 2019, as incoming co-directors of the Global Health Centre, Prof. Vinh-Kim Nguyen and Prof. Suerie Moon identified the need for a new strategy to clearly articulate a vision, mission, and priorities, and set out a clear path for future growth. Building on consultations with colleagues, advisors and students, we developed a new “Open Global Health” strategy for 2020-2024. With its strategic location in Geneva, close to the halls of international organizations and government missions to the UN, the Centre can help to open up global health governance to diverse voices, knowledge and ideas. The concept of “open global health” sums up our longstanding interest in the principles of transparency and inclusion, as ways to strengthen the legitimacy, effectiveness and accountability of global governance processes. We believe that more open, critical and diverse debates about global health governance will ultimately improve the quality of decision-making and debate. It can enable a larger public to inform decision-making and to monitor realities on the ground – thus, improving health policies and outcomes.
The “Open Global Health” strategy builds on the Centre’s historical strengths as an independent partner with local and international stakeholders and its experience over the past decade in training a generation of leaders in global health diplomacy. It also brings together the Centre’s growing and diverse research portfolio. We identified five focus areas for our future research, convening and education:
- technological innovation, access and finance
- outbreaks and epidemics
- global digital futures
- intimacy, sexuality and autonomy; and
- law, protection and control.
An overarching concern is our critical engagement with global governance processes that affect health, paying attention to geopolitics, the impact of (neo)colonialism on global health, and resource flows. We also focus on populations often excluded from governance, and those often left behind. The Centre engages critically in its research, education and convening with issues of governance, politics and power.
Having restructured internally to support the new strategy, in 2020-21, the Centre is now exploring these themes through our annual World Health Assembly series of side-events, which are selected through an open call for proposals. These are complemented by an ongoing “Open Global Health” lecture series, as well as through an ongoing series organized by the Knowledge Network for Innovation and Access to Medicines and a series on Global Health Justice. Internally, we have several cross-cutting collaborations, including a Covid-19 working group and a series of seminars on decolonizing global health. In April 2021, the Centre also launched its International Advisory Board (IAB), chaired by Prof. Ilona Kickbusch, founder of the GHC. The IAB brings together a diverse group of experts from academia, government, international organizations and civil society.
Through critical engagement with governance, politics and power, the Centre is a unique meeting place for scholars and practitioners in Geneva and beyond, bridging academic research, science, public policy, advocacy and new media. It can provide a space for thoughtful reflection and critique, while fostering the innovation, creativity and new partnerships needed to respond to growing global health challenges.