A hospital pharmacy in Mali
Credit: Godong/BSIP/Science Photo Library


This is the foreword section of the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018

Health is a personal experience, a social issue and a global concern. Any attempt to improve health, whether through new treatments, policies or procedures, will be most effective when patients and the public are engaged. No matter how great your idea or how robust your science, it still has to be accepted by the people who stand to benefit from it. Most of the time, that will mean someone putting their trust in healthcare professionals and the science and technologies that underpin modern medicine.

Wellcome Global Monitor is the largest study to date into global attitudes to science and health. Having collected responses from more than 140,000 people in over 140 countries, it offers a wealth of information about people’s interest and trust in science in almost every part of the world.

Differences in attitudes between regions are fascinating, but I’m just as struck by the similarities. Wherever they are, people want to know more about science and health, and 75% of us have confidence in our own country’s healthcare system.

We asked people specifically about vaccines. They are our most powerful public health tools, protecting billions of people from deadly and debilitating infections like polio or measles. But to achieve sufficient coverage of the population to be effective, people have to feel able to trust vaccines, healthcare workers and scientists. The vast majority of those surveyed agreed that vaccines are important, and even parents who were sceptical about safety or effectiveness mostly said their children had received at least one vaccine. 

Like so many health issues, the acceptability of vaccines relies on a number of social factors as well as people’s personal choices. This means that understanding people and society – through history, sociology, anthropology – is at least as important as understanding viruses and immunology.

It’s the flipside of traditional public engagement, where the aim has been for the public to understand the science. In fact, it has to cut both ways. Science is part of society: if all of us can be more open to ideas and perspectives we don’t necessarily share, the research that society supports and does will become more relevant and, ultimately, more effective. Instead of science being done for the public, it will be done with the public.

Wellcome Global Monitor presents an unprecedented and comprehensive view of current relationships between science and the public around the world. As well as providing context for further research, its findings can inform the development of policies to increase trust and engagement between scientists and society. It shows the diversity of attitudes towards science and health, and much that we all have in common. Working together, sharing, collaborating and learning from each other, we can make the most of science and research to improve our health, our lives and our world.

Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome