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History | Health Policy

History|Policy: Pathways for Historian Engagement in Public Healthcare

During the COVID-19 pandemic, disease and health historians were called upon by media, public organizations, and institutions (including government agencies) to explain how past disease outbreaks can inform present-day and future responses, and to enhance public understanding. Health historians shared their knowledge about complex topics such as the history of public health measures (such as quarantine, social distancing, or self-isolation), mental health, vaccine acceptance and anti-vaccination movements, pandemic economic impacts, elder care, social inequality and disease, scientific racism, colonialism, and pandemic memory and preservation. Historians spoke to the public, but also with health policy decision makers, impacted communities and public health workers, in ‘real time.’

Whether the pandemic experience will bring lasting attention to historical perspectives remains to be seen. For several decades there have been efforts to achieve greater inclusion of history in public policy development. History of public health and health care, however, has seldom been an explicit focus of history|policy programmes. This is an opportune moment to change that, and bring historian insights into public health policy and healthy equity more directly into focus. The differential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic heighten the need for the democratization of knowledge about health. Systemic and cultural barriers to health equity in the past continue to shape our present.

With funding support from AMS Healthcare, project research findings have been pulled together in a basic backgrounder on suggested pathways to improve history|health policy dialogue (which highlights key insights from literature in the field), and democratize knowledge and public health. Resources for further reading and discussion are provided.