GLOBAL HEALTH – Colonization and decolonization of global health: which way forward?

by Maysoon Hussain, Mitra Sadigh, Majid Sadigh, Asghar Rastegar, Nelson Sewankambo

Global Health Action 2023;16:1   (Open access)

Despite taking on several forms throughout history such as colonial medicine, tropical medicine, and international health, the field of global health continues to uphold colonialist structures. History demonstrates that acts of colonialism inevitably lead to negative health outcomes. Colonial powers promoted medical advancements when diseases affected their own people, and only did so for locals when in the colonies’ best interests. Numerous medical advancements in the United States also relied on the exploitation of vulnerable populations. This history is critical in evaluating the actions of the United States as a proclaimed leader in global health. A significant barrier to progress in the field of global health is that most leaders and leading institutions are located in high-income countries, thereby defining the global standard. This standard fails to meet the needs of most of the world. In times of crisis, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, colonial mentalities may be more evident. In fact, global health partnerships themselves are often ingrained in colonialism and may be counter-productive. Strategies for change have been called into question by the recent Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in evaluating the role that less privileged communities should have in their own fate. Globally, we can commit to evaluating our own biases and learning from one another.

PHOTO: Health care workers adjust gear before they enter a room where a baby is suspected of dying of Ebola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters,, 21 May 2019