Decolonising health and medicine | The BMJ

South-up Peters projection. Daniel R. Strebe, CC BY-SA

There is growing demand for decolonisation – a process of rebuilding institutions and knowledge systems without the cultural and social impacts of colonial era violence, racism, misogyny, and Eurocentrism. Decolonisation matters profoundly to health because empire shaped medicine: from experimentation of enslaved populations and codification of race science, to the entrenchment of western scientific thinking in medical practice and the norm of white male bodies in anatomy and clinical study design. Modern health systems are shaped by colonialism’s exclusion and exploitation, which live on in flawed current healthcare measures like body mass index and in structural health inequities such as the much higher stillbirth rates among ethnic minority groups in the UK compared with the general population.

Decolonisation requires radical institutional change, including a deeper examination of how present inequities and lack of progress in health are linked to a failure to confront colonial pasts. Advocates highlight how decolonising requires us to meaningfully restore power and agency to marginalised interests and groups, not merely to acknowledge these issues, apologise, or rename old buildings.

To contribute to these collective efforts, The BMJ has launched a podcast and article series to examine progress toward decolonising health and medicine. It discusses topics such as, Who and what is missing from the current agenda? What does decolonising health and knowledge mean in practical terms for medical professionals, educators, researchers, and journals? What institutional leadership and action are needed to drive change? Contributors draw from multidisciplinary perspectives and include established as well as new scholars, practitioners, and advocates of decolonisation worldwide, including leadership of two influential colonial era institutions, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the British Medical Association.

We welcome suggestions for further topics to explore and article submissions to this ongoing series. Please email Jocalyn Clark ( or Richard Hurley (



Decolonisation: London’s famous school of “tropical medicine” and its uncomfortable identity
One of Britain’s most renowned medical institutions is grappling with its colonial nature and the impact on racism and inequality in its culture today. In the first of two Features, Mun-Keat Looi asks, are its decolonisation efforts sufficient?

What should “decolonisation” of medical institutions look like?
A spotlight on race and inequality has highlighted the colonial nature of historic medical institutions in a way that is increasingly difficult to ignore. Many are seeking to address it – but decolonisation means far more than diversification, finds Mun-Keat Looi, in the second of two Features


What next for decolonising health and medicine?
The BMJ editors introduce a new podcast and article series examining the legacy of colonialism and the progress needed to make meaningful change

Coloniality lives on through medical education
Thirusha Naida argues medical schools must promote decolonial perspectives to counter the bias and discrimination that persists in medical research and practice

Student activism drives decolonisation in medicine
Lara Akinnawonu writes that student activism is driving decolonisation efforts and challenging racism in the medical establishment including the British Medical Association

The case for a Global South centred model in global health
Muneera Rasheed argues that a visionary paradigm shift is needed to decolonise global health and centre the Global South as primary actors and leaders in the field

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