New collaborating centre on cultural contexts of health at the University of Exeter

Data and statistics have long been recognized as integral to making informed and evidence-based policy decisions about public health. But increasingly – and particularly since the adoption of the Health 2020 policy framework – greater emphasis has been placed on examining how cultural factors affect health and well-being. For example, how might religion or other cultural practices influence nutrition in a given community? How do local customs or values affect the health response during an outbreak? Investigating the cultural contexts of health is an important step towards understanding people’s experiences and lifestyle choices; such investigation may ultimately lead to better public health across the WHO European Region.

As part of efforts to expand WHO’s work on the cultural contexts of health, the University of Exeter’s Centre for Medical History in the United Kingdom has been designated the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health until 2020. This designation provides an opportunity for WHO to partner with medical historians and social scientists from an internationally recognized hub for interdisciplinary research, in order to investigate the cultural contexts of health and well-being with a view to broadening the evidence base used by policy-makers around the world.

Centre to build on the cultural contexts of health project

WHO/Europe’s cultural contexts of health project (CCH) will act as the foundation for the Collaborating Centre. The project aims to investigate the many ways in which culture can enhance – or prevent – good health and well-being. CCH seeks to support informed public health policy-making through a nuanced understanding of how cultural contexts affect health and health care. This is achieved by advocacy and through better integration of research from the health-related humanities and social sciences into WHO’s work.

The Centre will be funded by the Wellcome Trust and the University of Exeter. Co-director Professor Mark Jackson commented, “We are delighted to be working closely with colleagues at WHO. 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 the WHO Regional Office for Europe said, “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. 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 in all areas of public health.