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Decolonization and global health partnerships: A reflection

Decolonization and global health partnerships: A reflection
December 21, 2021

By Mary Ntochukwu Ndu, Ph.D. Candidate in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The University of Western Ontario and SYP member at CAGH

The theme of this year’s conference, “Rethinking partnership paradigms in global health,” resonated with me the first day I read it while browsing the conference website. It was a call to action, a clarion call as an African to not relent in my pursuit for understanding and awareness among my fellow Africans on the job we need to do ourselves if we want our voices to augment their impact.

This thought was running through my mind while listening to the plenary discussion on day one of the conference. The discussion on the power imbalance between the North and the South, linked to problematic assumptions of the North that the South is unable to initiate successful interventions or solutions to solve local problems was illuminating. I did find the panel discussion would have benefitted from experts from the Global South. Still, my main observation is that, for me, this connected to an issue I have been pondering for several years: that responsibilities for decolonization are so often these days framed exclusively as the onus of the north. The South must assume its central role in this process also.

The South has as much work as the North in the decolonizing global health movement, in my view. It is only in having such frank conversations that we can truly begin to create a space where every voice, opinion, and knowledge is accepted. Knowing these conversations are transcending academia into the field of global health is already an indication of progress. I dare say that the future of global health could become one where African scientists and researchers are given a seat at the table as equals when it comes to discussions of decolonizing global health practice.

Building a true partnership between the North and South requires recognizing the latent capacity and resources available in the South. I do wonder if, on the path to decolonization, the movement may perpetuate or reinforce modern-day colonialization? We need to be cautious or risk creating more problems than solutions. For example, when we use phrases like providing spaces to the South, it may reiterate an old colonial adage: that the South is incapable and dependent on the North for progress. Do I have a contrary suggestion? Absolutely not! What I do know is that decolonization is a joint effort and requires all hands on deck. I understand that equity demands surrendering privilege, but it also must involve recognizing and avoiding putting the North once again at the helm of the ship.

There were so many great moments at this conference that I cherish! For instance, meeting new people, interacting and connecting with global health experts in academia and the field, student researchers from other schools, and seeing the fantastic research of colleagues. I particularly enjoyed reading Dr. Astle’s “Applying a Decolonising Lens to a south African Intersectoral partnership on mothering and ableism during the global pandemic.” Letting community researchers lead the study showed faith in their ability. It was also refreshing to see they applied a decolonizing gender lens, which I would like to know more about and look forward to reading in the full paper.

I was sad that I could not attend the conference physically because I felt it was an opportunity to build a network of experts in the Canadian Global Health space. I have to say that I had nothing to worry about as the online platform presented every opportunity to engage and network with peers, colleagues, and experts globally. The online platform became a true haven for a person who identifies as primarily introverted! I met some senior colleagues that I look forward to collaborating with in the future.