International Health and Human Rights: Being Heard Professional Development Series

15 March 2021


Reported by Paul Michael Brett, CSaP Policy Intern

International Health and Human Rights: Being Heard Professional Development Series

In the world of international health and human rights, how do we examine and determine what is the “best” policy or set of policies? How do we ensure that interests of all groups are considered, especially when those groups are marginalised?

In late January 2021, the Centre for Science and Policy hosted a professional development seminar for Cambridge PhD students from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. This was the first event in the ‘Being Heard’ Policy Seminar Series. The seminar discussion was led by CSaP Policy Fellows Tasnim Atatrah (Health Emergency Coordinator for Central Asia at World Health Organization) and Qianyu Lu (PhD Land economy at the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research). The main topics of discussion were the social determinants of health, human rights, and the impacts of land economy policies on migrant workers in China. Following the presentations, seminar participants explored the landscape at the intersection between policy and health.

To begin the seminar, Dr Atatrah described her 20-year career journey from medical doctor to a public health professional. Dr Atatrah’s professional focus has been on issues relevant to emergency response and health system strengthening amongst central Asian countries. Dr Atatrah’s work has involved capacity building, providing platforms to facilitate discussion of shared experiences amongst medical professionals, and advocacy work. She emphasised that the success of this work is predicated upon strong communication, and the availability of evidence-based information from research.

In a subsequent presentation, doctoral researcher Qianyu Lu described her work on social exclusion and housing policy in China. She described the factors which impact lack of urban citizenship among migrant workers in China’s megacities and outlined how the move to a secondary stage of urbanisation and a change in governmental care of vulnerable groups allowed her to dissect policies exacerbating the problems facing these vulnerable groups. She noted that housing is both an important factor in social inclusion, and a potential factor in social exclusion, adding that different types of migrant groups have different needs. At present, housing policy in China remains largely exclusionary when it comes to the needs of low-skilled migrant workers.

Throughout the event, discussion participants explored questions of policy exposure, availability of resources, and institutional capacity which lie at the intersection between discussions of policy and social determinants of health and wellbeing. Participants raised questions about best practices for education policy in conflict-affected countries; the management of government constraints; and the framing of policy dialogues between governments and the population. Here, one participant noted that specific interests, and certain research questions, can end up more on the table than others.

Based on this discussion, participants asked, how do we make it so that evidence is the main driver of exposure of research and thus allocation of resources? Drawing upon her field of expertise, Dr Atatrah suggested it might help if we use the collective experience of professionals in the field to inform courses for medical professionals or “taking global best practices and introducing them to other activities in other countries”.

Dr Tasnim Atatrah

World Health Organization

Paul Brett

University of Nottingham