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Breaking Boundaries: Transforming health policy across Europe

23 March 2021

3 minutes to read

Breaking Boundaries: Transforming health policy across Europe

A unique World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health (WHO Centre) at the University of Exeter has transformed health policy and practice in Europe.

Launched in 2015, The WHO Centre was launched after Director of CCH at WHO Europe worked closely with Professor Mark Jackson on a chapter for the European Health Report that year, calling for greater awareness of the cultural contexts of health and well-being.

Professor Jackson and Dr Felicity Thomas co-direct the centre.  Their research explores the social and cultural determinants of health and medicine in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and focuses on the cultural contexts of health in the contemporary world.

Jackson’s research focuses on how social and cultural factors have shaped medical and scientific knowledge, health-care policies, and personal and political narratives of health. His initial work looked at the global history of allergy. It revealed the historical and cultural specificity of links between socio-economic conditions and patterns of health and disease.

Analysis of changing cultures highlighted how trends in allergic diseases such as asthma, hay fever and eczema relate to evolving forms of environment, as well as alterations in food consumption and hygiene.

Interdisciplinary research from Dr Thomas has shown the importance of cultural awareness and patient participation in the development and delivery of sustainable mental health care.

By leading the development of new collaborative approaches to health research – grounded in medical humanities and qualitative, participatory methodologies – Jackson and Thomas have generated clearer understandings of the cultural determinants of health and well-being.

A study of antibiotic resistance, co-authored by Jackson and Thomas with members of the WHO Centre, demonstrated that tackling this complex risk to health demands systematic investigation of the historical, cultural, and socio-economic drivers of antibiotic usage.

Antibiotic resistance: using a cultural contexts of health approach to address a global health challenge. Lead Author: Katie Ledingham; Co-authors: Steve Hinchliffe, Mark Jackson, Felicity Thomas, Göran Tomson

The WHO Centre has also provided Jackson and Thomas with a platform to influence mental health policy and practice across Europe.

Tracing the cultural and historical determinants of mental health across the life course, work included a workshop in 2017 on mental health reform in Central and Eastern Europe, hosted by the National Institute for Mental Health, Czechia.

30 policy-makers and practitioners from Czechia, Poland, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania, attended the workshop and provided insights on cultural factors that affect the transition from institutional to community-based health-care systems. The workshop generated a platform for discussion, guidance, and support.

Participants from Ukraine and Belarus also sought further collaboration and guidance on reforming their national systems of mental health care.

Together, combining their research expertise has shown how addressing global health challenges of this nature requires recognising the impact of cultural contexts on scientific knowledge, the development and delivery of health-care policies and practice, and personal and collective experiences of illness, health, and well-being.


Breaking boundaries provides a bitesize look into the variety of leading research that has, and still is changing the world from the University of Exeter.

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