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Spotlight on: the Best International Research award

Shortlisted for Best International Research in the first AHRC/Health Humanities Medal awards, these nominees all illustrate the scale and international scope of work being led by researchers in the UK.

This new national award was created to celebrate the contribution of the arts and humanities to improving healthcare, health and wellbeing, and in this particular category, the judges were looking for the best research in the health humanities from the past five years that has an international focus. This could be through collaborations with international partners, or research which has addressed the needs of a country of region outside of the UK, for example.

Professor Nicki Hitchcott, University of St Andrews

Nicki Hitchcott
Professor Nicki Hitchcott, University of St Andrews

Working in partnership since 2015 with the Genocide Archive of Rwanda and the Aegis Trust, the AHRC-funded Rwandan Stories of Change project has been analysing the ways in which individual Rwandans, still living with the trauma of 1994, have reconstructed their identities in positive ways, demonstrating what is known as “post-traumatic growth”.

Together with Rwandan practitioners, including therapists and clinical psychologists, the project aims to find a new, relevant and culturally sensitive model of measuring positive psychological change in Rwanda. 

Nicki explains: “I am absolutely delighted to be shortlisted in the category of Best International Research. The project focuses on the ways in which Rwandan people have been rebuilding their lives previously shattered by the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. In testimonies from survivors and perpetrators, we have found evidence of psychological growth, increased wellbeing, and positive changes in outlook despite ongoing symptoms of PTSD. Being shortlisted will give greater visibility to the ways in which Rwandans have become agents of change, challenging stereotypes of Rwandan people as victims.”

Dr Ross White, University of Liverpool

Ross White
Dr Ross White, University of Liverpool

Ross is a Reader in Global Mental Health at University of Liverpool and has worked for a decade in often challenging international contexts exploring the effects of trauma in relation to post-conflict situations, genocide and gender-related violence.

Research has been conducted in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Uganda. He was lead editor of ‘The Palgrave Handbook of Socio-cultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health’ (released in February 2017), which explores perspectives from social sciences and humanities about efforts to build capacity for mental health services in low- and middle-income countries.

Ross has current research collaborations with the World Health Organization and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees investigating the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for reducing distress experienced by refugee populations.  

Collaborators have reported that Ross’s linguistically and culturally sensitive focus on distress, resilience and wellbeing has brought a qualitative change to those being treated, not least in terms of self-confidence and self-regard.

Ross explains: “I am thrilled that my shortlisting provides an opportunity to recognise the important opportunities that interdisciplinary collaboration, and the use of creative arts, provide for sharing experiences of distress, resilience and wellbeing amongst speakers of different languages. I owe my collaborators a debt of gratitude for my shortlisting. By supporting me to move beyond areas of expertise generally associated with my clinical psychology disciplinary field they have broadened my understanding of the possibilities that research collaboration can bring. I hope that in some small way I might have been able to return the favour.”

Dr Felicity Thomas, University of Exeter

Felicity Thomas
Dr Felicity Thomas, University of Exeter

Working across academic disciplines, Felicity’s research uses insights from the humanities and arts to develop innovative, applied, and policy-relevant understandings of the cultural contexts of health, particularly as this relates to migration, mental health, and notions of wellbeing.

Felicity’s work includes the development of a toolkit on intercultural competence and diversity sensitivity which is now the focus of a session at the annual World Health Organization (WHO) Summer School on Migration (held in Italy) for healthcare practitioners, civil society groups and health-related policy makers. She is also developing work to strengthen understandings of the cultural contexts of mental health and mental health care in Central and Eastern Europe.

Felicity is also Co-Director (along with Professor Mark Jackson) of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Culture and Health, which contributes to the aims of WHO Europe to embed cultural perspectives and approaches into its health policies. In this role, she has also led the process for developing a new approach to reporting on country-level wellbeing.

Felicity says: “It is an absolute privilege to be shortlisted for this award. For me, this nomination gives important recognition of the need for a collaborative and inter-disciplinary approach that promotes and embeds the humanities and arts within international health policy and practice in a way that can make a positive difference to the health care and dignity of diverse people and communities.”

Professor Caroline Rooney, University of Kent

Caroline Rooney
Professor Caroline Rooney, University of Kent

Caroline Rooney is Professor of African and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Kent and this project concerns international co-operation over the medical rights and wellbeing of Palestinian prisoners. It was partly funded through Caroline’s PaCCs fellowship, Imagining the Common Ground (AHRC-funded). Through her play production, The Keepers of Infinite Space (Park Theatre, 2014), Caroline was invited by William Parry to co-direct a film on the healthcare of Palestinian prisoners, which communicates in a vivid and humanising manner, inadequately reported crises around healthcare to international audiences for remedial intervention.

This collaboration resulted in Breaking the Generations: Palestinian Prisoners and Medical Rights, an original advocacy documentary that grew out of over 80 hours of filmed footage of interviews with former Palestinian prisoners and their families and with leading professional and NGO experts and Palestinian doctors.

The aim of the film is to challenge the political control over the healthcare and wellbeing of prisoners, an aim that entails bringing together an international community of arts activists, lawyers, humanitarian NGO workers and policy-makers.

Caroline says: “My arts-based work is on the medical rights of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and constitutes an act of attention to those who seek international uptake of the humanitarian concerns at stake. The nomination for this award is itself an act of attention to collaborations that can make a difference to the health care and dignity of particularly vulnerable communities.”

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