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After the end: Lived experiences and aftermaths of Diseases, Disasters and Drugs in global health

Exeter researchers help secure £6.5m Wellcome Trust grant for new project on global health crises

Experts in Medical History and English Literature at the University of Exeter have helped to secure a new multi-million-pound research grant for a project that will look at how our concept of time impacts the way we approach global health crises.

'After the end: lived experiences and aftermaths of diseases, disasters, and drugs in global health’ is an interdisciplinary collaboration that will examine how humanity’s propensity to look for a clear ‘beginning, middle and end’ frames the use of resources and shapes its ethics and care policies and practice.

The eight-year, £6.5m programme, is one of the first in the country to receive a Discovery Award from the Wellcome Trust and brings together the Universities of Oxford, Exeter, Liverpool John Moores, Warwick, with partners in Brazil, Hong Kong and Sierra Leone.

Dora Vargha, Professor of History and Medical Humanities, and Laura Salisbury, Professor of Modern Literature and Medical Humanities at Exeter, both of whom work in the Wellcome Centre for the Cultures and Environments of Health, will lead one of four work packages. They will conduct a historical analysis of previous crises alongside a literary examination of how cultural texts and their legacies have constructed temporal narratives in ongoing discussions of ‘the end’ in relation to COVID-19.

“When global outbreaks and crises are declared ‘over’, what does that actually mean for people?” said Prof. Vargha, Professor of History and Medical Humanities in the Department of Archaeology and History. “This raises many important considerations such as who gets to determine the end and how is that ‘ending’ experienced? What happens to people for whom there is no ending? And how does it impact our ongoing access to care, our future prevention planning and health policies?”

Within the Exeter-led work package, Prof. Vargha will conduct research on the ‘history of endings’, looking at how they shape current experience, policies and approaches surrounding the aftermath of global health initiatives. The work will go on to create an analytical toolkit for understanding current challenges, expectations and consequences of health crises.

Professor Salisbury, of the Department of English and Creative Writing, will look at cultural narratives around such endings and how they inform current global health interventions and policies, as well as exploring narratives that offer different ways of framing temporal experiences. A postdoctoral researcher will also be working on the project to explore indigenous narratives of time, ending and aftermaths.

“COVID-19 has highlighted how health challenges and interventions depend on particular temporal narratives to achieve legitimacy,” said Prof. Salisbury. “Our work will examine which elements impede or enable socially and environmentally just interventions. The project’s focus is timely and important as we increasingly face complex and multiple aftermaths caused by previous and current environmental disasters, infectious disease outbreaks and drug resistance.”

'After the end: lived experiences and aftermaths of diseases, disasters, and drugs in global health’ is being led by Patricia Kingori, Professor of Global Health Ethics at the Ethox Centre and the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, and Senior Research Fellow at Somerville College, Oxford.

The Discovery Awards provide funding for established researchers and teams from any discipline who want to pursue bold and creative research ideas to deliver significant shifts in understanding that could improve human life, health and wellbeing. More information is available on the Wellcome Trust website

Date: 16 August 2022

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