BMJ Global Health Commentary | Decolonising Global (Public) Health: from Western universalism to Global pluriversalities

Clara Affun-Adegbulu, Opemiposi Adegbulu


A quick Google search using the keywords ‘Ebola deaths’ produces a series of images showing people in various stages of death and suffering. Two, which appear towards the top, are particularly striking. In one, a woman crawls towards a body, in the other, a man lays motionless on the ground. Both are clearly identifiable. A similar search, this time, using the keywords ‘COVID-19 deaths’ does not produce comparable results, even though we scrolled much further down the list of results than we had done for Ebola. Why is this the case?

One could answer this question by talking about differences in the places of care and sites of death for the two diseases, the relative newness of COVID-19, or even the algorithms that search engines use. Yet, the truth is, it is hard for us to imagine a situation where such images would ever emerge from a Western country. In our opinion, this points to the larger issue of the dehumanisation of Black and Brown peoples, which is both a symptom and outcome of the hierarchisation of humanity.

At first glance, the field of Global (Public) Health appears to be untouched by this hierarchisation, given that the words ‘global’ and ‘public’ connote a universality of humanity and interests. Yet, as we will show, the hierarchisation of humanity is very much an issue in Global (Public) Health.