Cultural contexts of health project to work with UNESCO


The influence culture exerts on health and health care is still largely unknown and unexplored. At the second expert advisory group meeting on the cultural contexts of health (CCH), WHO/Europe has begun a closer collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO's) Section for Intangible Cultural Heritage, in order to explore how health policy can benefit from a wide array of multidisciplinary research to promote a deeper understanding of the cultural contexts and experiences of health.

The meeting took place on 4–5 April 2016 at UN City, Copenhagen, Denmark. It brought together leading academics from the health-related humanities and social sciences, public health experts and representatives of relevant organizations, such as the Wellcome Trust, whose focus is on the intersection of culture, health and well-being.

One of the central discussions of the meeting was how CCH connects to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Expert group members drew attention to work in the humanities and social sciences that can help reduce health inequities by accessing different forms of evidence (such as narratives) that can amplify marginalized voices.

Expert group members also agreed on the urgency of highlighting how cultural contexts affect such pressing regional and global health challenges as the dramatic rise of obesity for instance, or the current refugee crisis in Europe. The CCH project will, therefore, focus on developing advocacy across a variety of activities around 4 broad areas:

  1. migration
  2. nutrition
  3. environment
  4. well-being.

Meeting outcomes

The meeting resulted in several concrete outcomes. One is for WHO to develop a methodological toolkit, which will set out a number of qualitative approaches that can help inform the evidence base for public health policy-making. Furthermore, the CCH project will publish 4 Health Evidence Network synthesis reports over the next 2 years, designed to assess the impact of culture on specific health challenges within the CCH focus areas.

Crucially, WHO also will be commissioning work to explore the interrelationships between culture, health and the SDGs. These outcomes will be reviewed at a subsequent meeting to be jointly organized by WHO and UNESCO.

Mark Jackson, Chair of the CCH expert group and Professor of the History of Medicine and Research Theme Leader for Medical Humanities at the University of Exeter (United Kingdom), said, "The importance of the project on the cultural contexts of health cannot be underestimated. The evolving partnership with UNESCO underlines the value of engaging with the full complexity of the lived experience in public health and health policy-making, as well as the importance of a multisectoral approach to health and well-being promoted by Health 2020."

A report of the meeting will follow.