The University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History will work with WHO to help shape health policies. Image:

Medical historians and social scientists helping to tackle the world’s most pressing public health problems

Researchers at the University of Exeter will work with the World Health Organization to tackle the world’s most pressing public health problems.

Historians, anthropologists, geographers, psychologists and health researchers will come together to share their knowledge of past and present experiences of health and illness to help shape health policies around the world.

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History, an internationally recognised hub for interdisciplinary research, has been designated a WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health. From now until 2020 academics in the Centre will work with WHO/Europe to produce guidance for policymakers and run events designed to generate new approaches to public health.

The Centre will be funded by Wellcome and the University of Exeter and co-directed by Professor Mark Jackson and Dr Felicity Thomas.

Professor Jackson said: “We are delighted to be working closely with colleagues at WHO. Together, we will be exploring how experiences of illness and medical knowledge are shaped by cultural practices and beliefs, both now and in the past. We want to see how evidence from the humanities and social sciences can be used to help to develop and evaluate innovative and effective public health initiatives.”

Dr Claudia Stein, Director of Division of Information, Evidence, Research and Innovation at WHO/Europe said: “We would like to give University of Exeter the warmest of welcomes as our latest Collaborating Centre. Building bridges between public health specialists, policy-makers and the academic world is a crucial part of our work in finding new types of evidence for the 21st century.

“By evidence we not only mean data and statistics, but also a body of interdisciplinary knowledge and research that takes into account cultural contexts and lived experience. The University of Exeter will be a highly valued partner in this exciting new era for health information.”

There are more than 700 WHO Collaborating Centres in around 80 countries working with WHO on areas such as nursing, occupational health, communicable diseases, nutrition, mental health, chronic diseases and health technologies.

Professor Steve Smith, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “I am delighted that experts at the University of Exeter will give advice which could provide solutions and new ideas to help tackle some of the world’s most pressing public health problems.”

Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture and Society at Wellcome, said: “Wellcome is committed to improving health for everyone, and we recognise that understanding the social, historical, ethical and cultural dimensions of health is an intrinsic part of this mission.

“Wellcome has been a significant supporter of the research carried out by the Centre for Medical History. The formal recognition of the Centre as a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health demonstrates the value of this research and its importance to global health policy and practice.”

Date: 27 September 2016

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