‘Only Connect’: the case for public health humanities

In a workshop on narrative in public health in Lomé, Togo, I ask participants—ministry of health workers and representatives from nongovernmental agencies—to share examples of stories they use in their work. These include theatre pieces and personal illness narratives employed for community health promotion, examples which reflect the long-standing use, worldwide, of narrative to promote health. Indeed, a growing body of research illuminates the power of stories to influence health behaviour. When asked what stories they tell ministers and other people in power about the health consequences of the policies they enact, they grow silent.

One man offers, ‘We give them numbers’.

I ask them then to spend a few minutes thinking of events and people they encounter in their work that might put a face on the numbers for ministers and other government employees. When I call for examples after that, many hands fly into the air. …

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