School of Population Health

Privilege | Poverty, equity and the drivers of health: In conversation

Image CFI Privilege Poverty

Decolonising global health means a dismantling of privilege and the structural barriers to health, both across countries and within. In a world where everyone’s health matters, whose knowledge do we value? Whose voice is loudest and how do we shift the dial?   

This was the focus of an in-depth conversation on 5 May between Professor Sabina Faiz Rashid, Dean of the James P. Grant School of Public Health at Brac University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head of School of Population Health at UNSW Sydney, as part of the UNSW Centre for Big Ideas international conversation series.  

During her opening remarks, Professor Ivers said:  

“In these fraught times, we have all become aware, even if not before, of the importance of health, not something anyone will ever take for granted again.... What has also become apparent more so than ever before, are the stark differentials in global health, and the drivers of these... As the COVID-19 pandemic continues there are huge and glaring inequities in terms of how people can protect themselves.”  

Professors Rashid and Ivers unpacked the notion of ‘privilege’ as the key driver of inequities in global health, reflecting on their own personal and academic experiences and the need to examine one’s own privilege and the common assumptions we make in global health that reinforce systemic barriers to change.  

Professor Rashid said:  

“Some of the most successful programs have been communities coming up with their own solutions...it’s not about just saying we have communities involved, but are we engaging with them – because they often know best...” 

Professor Rashid also highlighted the power of biomedical medicine to decontextualise individuals from their local environments and the importance of local context and local voices. 

“We cannot remove the social, the economic, the political factors that directly and indirectly inform health and lived experiences... COVID has just magnified existing inequalities - we need to go back to the drawing board to talk about this.”   

Reflecting on the need to have conversations like this, Professor Ivers said:  

“These conversations require us to be reflexive, to gaze inwards at our own privilege and confront it. Ultimately it means also to give up some of our privilege; to hand power and to other voices, to value other voices and discursive knowledges and promote and amplify them.”  

Watch the video or listen to the podcast here

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UNSW School of Population Health