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The Past, Present, and Future of US Global Health Partnerships in Africa

Year of Funding: 
Outside of Infectious Diseases Institute, logo with words "celebration of partnership" inside yellow and green circle

The term “partnership” has become a core value in the field of global health over the past fifteen years, signaling a rejection of older, more paternalistic modes of Western health interventions in Africa. However, steep economic and political inequalities make equitable partnerships difficult to achieve. Histories of colonialism, as well as ongoing issues of race and representation within and between the United States and its partners, further complicate efforts to create partnership.

Throughout 2016-2017, this project connected diverse faculty from across the University of Washington, along with an international invited keynote speaker, Iruka Okeke, in a series of workshops. These workshops culminated in the drafting of a series of essays examining “partnership” as a programmatic priority and affective ideal in global health initiatives between the United States and African countries, and beyond. In 2017, essays resulting from these workshops will be published in two venues—the widely-read site Africa is a Country and the open-access journal Medicine, Anthropology, Theory.

In continuing this project through a collaboration studio grant, we further investigate the past, present, and future of global health partnerships through joint and individual research endeavors. We explore the emergence of the vexed ideal of partnership in the early postcolonial period and track its ongoing complexities and inequities in our contemporary era of global health. We also explore how global health institutions have already begun to imagine new funding and management arrangements that conjoin—often uneasily—the ideal of partnership with the ideals of transparency and continual innovation. In doing so, we draw on humanistic perspectives from medical anthropology, African studies, and critical public health. Although each of these fields has begun to engage with issues of partnership, there is an urgent need to develop and share knowledge across the three fields.

Our work this year focuses on publishing the two sets of essays and hosting a launch event for them in Winter 2018. The event coincides with a Katz Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities by Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health. We will develop three linked full-length articles examining the themes of past, present, and future global health partnerships. These articles will draw on both individual and jointly-conducted ethnographic and historical research.


Story: Exploring Global Health Partnerships

Africa is a Country essay series on global health partnerships:

Primary Contacts

Lynn Thomas (History)

Johanna Crane (Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Bothell) 

Nora Kenworthy (Nursing & Health Studies, UW Bothell)