Accepted Paper:

Indigenous epistemologies in global health: WHO regulation of traditional medicine since Alma Ata 1978  


Francesco Salvini (University of Kent)
Emilie Cloatre (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the WHO's engagement with traditional medicine, and interrogates the regulatory shaping of indigenous epistemologies in global health. This history offers important insights to address how alternative epistemologies of care have been mobilised in global health since 1970s.

Paper long abstract:

The paper examines the history of the WHO's engagement with traditional medicine. It argues that this history offers important insights in understanding both how alternative epistemologies of care have been mobilised or side-lined in global health over the last 40 years, and the influence of neoliberal ideologies on the regulation of non-biomedical resources in healthcare.

The paper critically reads the key WHO documents, practices and institutions that have engaged with traditional healing, since the discussions leading to the 1978 Alma Ata declaration. In turn, it argues that an effect of these discourses and regulatory strategies is to erase the alterity of indigenous knowledges through an acceptance that is conditional on their subordination. An effect is the effacement of the political boldness of indigenous alternatives.

Such process is part of a longer history of appropriation, exclusion, transformation and conditioning that has surrounded indigenous knowledges since the colonial era. In those movements, notions of tradition and modernity have come to categorise what epistemological arrangements could be considered as legitimate participants in contemporary healthcare. The paper engages with these issues by resignifying the traditional, as a practice that stands before (not only as "previous to", but also as "in front of") modernity, allowing us to replace traditional epistemologies of healing and caring as a matter of the contemporary. In doing so, the paper exposes the tensions between appropriation and regulation surrounding indigenous epistemologies, contributing to the decolonisation of global governance of healthcare.

Panel C25
Global health collaborations and alignments