Fifty years ago, medicine was considered a purely scientific discipline. Today’s doctors undoubtedly need this solid scientific knowledge, but, alongside this, medical training has increasingly emphasised a good bedside manner: patient engagement skills such as listening, observation and empathy.

This has led to a now well-established field of study called medical humanities, which focuses medical training on the human element of patients by drawing from other disciplines including literature, art, creative writing, drama, film, music, philosophy.

The emergence of global health humanities

Now, specialists at St George’s are among an emerging group of academics who are focusing on how to improve health for all people worldwide and increase health equality by learning from humanities. Global Health Humanities considers the cultural, religious, political, and societal determinants of physical and mental well-being around the world. The theory is, if health professionals can better understand these key influences then they can better understand people who are affected by global health inequality and injustice, resulting in more compassionate care and more appropriate health interventions.

Dr Ayesha Ahmad, a lecturer in Global Health who specialises in mental health and gender-based violence during conflict, has established a Global Health Humanities Hub to create an active network and a focal point for global health humanities research.

The network includes people with a wide variety of expertise who will share their insights of working around the world in challenging contexts for achieving health justice.

Dr Ahmad and a core team from St George’s will work with the network – which includes academics, clinicians, humanitarian workers, journalists, writers, artists and filmmakers – to bring new ways of mediating, reflecting and creating dialogue in global health. It is envisaged that this interdisciplinary expertise will result in diverse research and education curriculum development including outreach media dissemination.

Dr Ahmad's own research on gender-based violence during conflict uses the humanities to develop story-telling trauma therapeutic interventions to be implemented in humanitarian and health responses in conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan. Dr Ahmad said:

“The importance of integrating the humanities into global health reflects the oppression, marginalisation, and persecution that is inherent in health inequality and injustice. Insights from humanities can offer us new, interdisciplinary ways of thinking about health; helping us to train compassionate and humanistic health care providers and develop therapeutic interventions that engage with alternative discourses.”

Dr Ahmad began developing the network earlier this year and it already includes members from South Africa, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir, Turkey, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

The network adds to the portfolio of global health humanities at St George’s. In 2017, the university launched a Global Health Humanities module, developed and led by Dr Ahmad, which is integrated into the iBSc/MSc Global Health courses.