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Institute of Population Health Sciences (IPHS)

Dr Heather McMullen, PhD



Centre: Primary Care and Public Health

Telephone: +44 (0)207 882 7084


I am a social scientist in the Centre for Global Public Health in the Institute of Population Health Sciences, Queen Mary University of London.   I am the module lead for Gender, Sexuality and Global Health on the MSc programme and   regularly teach on research methodologies across the Global Health programmes. 

My background is largely in the non-governmental sector working in research and advocacy on aspects of gender, and sexual and reproductive rights and health, including with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the World Health Organisation.  I have also worked for many years with young people in youth centres and on projects related to adolescent health and wellbeing. 


These experiences inform my academic interests which span three broad areas:


Sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice

My most recent work explores the intersection of sexual and reproductive rights and justice with climate change and environmental sustainability.  

I currently lead on a partnership agreement between QMUL and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) exploring the intersection between climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights.  

I also collaborate on work from an anthropological perspective on the relationship between reproduction and the environment and am the Co-PI on a project entitled: In/Fertile Environments: Making kin in a time of crisis.

I have previously worked on projects related to social accountability for reproductive health, HIV testing, young motherhood and other projects that centre gender, sexual health, and justice. 


Methodology, complex interventions, and knowledge production

I find research methods, the production of evidence and different ways of knowing and accounting for phenomena very interesting and have applied this interest to work on complex intervention evaluation and design.  This interest was largely developed through my PhD work. 

I held a Doctoral Fellowship from the National Institute of Health Research between 2013 and 2016 and was supervised by Professors Trisha Greenhalgh and Chris Griffiths.  My work explored the experience of a randomised controlled trial on HIV testing using a range of methods including autoethnography and produced an account of the trial that reflected on complexity, pragmatism and situated ways of accounting for evidence in public health.  


Wellbeing, the body, and adolescent health 

I spent many years working in youth centres and with young people on a range of projects.  I currently lead a research project on serious youth violence and knife injury in East London with a group of colleagues from across QMUL and the Royal London Trauma Centre.   


Heather currently leads the MSc module Gender, Sexuality and Health with Anuj Kapilashrami and has led or guest lectured on Advanced Reading, Writing and Analysis, Maternal and Child Health, Communicable Diseases, Evidence Policy and Global Health and Anthropologies of Health across the BSc and MSc programmes.


Research Interests:

Health Engagement to Avoid interpersonal injury in young Londoners (HEAL) explores the public health responsive to violent knife injury.  Working with a team comprised of trauma surgeons,  violence reduction nurses, psychiatrists, public health experts and anthropologists the study is helping to build the picture of violent knife injury in East London to inform future intervention.


(In)fertile futures:  Exploring reproductive agency as climate change activism is a collaborative research project between Heather McMullen and Katharine Dow.  Through qualitative interviews and the analysis of testimonials we explore how the climate crisis is reshaping kinship and reproductive choices. 


The  Community and Provider driven Social Accountability Intervention (CaPSAI) study - led by the World Health Organisation RHR - explores the impact of social accountability interventions on contraceptive uptake and use in Ghana and Tanzania. 


The RHIVA 2 Trial was a trial of Rapid HIV Testing in Primary Care.  We explored whether offering rapid HIV testing in general practice supported the detection of HIV and at an earlier stage.  



Select Publications:



Boydell, Victoria, Heather McMullen, Joanna Cordero, Petrus Steyn, and James Kiare. 2019. “Studying Social Accountability in the Context of Health System Strengthening: Innovations and Considerations for Future Work.” Health Research Policy and Systems 17 (1): 34.


Heather McMullen. 2019. ‘State of the Conversation’ Climate Change, Population Dynamics and Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health.  Policy Paper.  Sex og Samfund (Danish Family Planning Association).


McMullen, Heather, Chris Griffiths, Werner Leber, and Trisha Greenhalgh. 2015. “Explaining High and Low Performers in Complex Intervention Trials: A New Model Based on Diffusion of Innovations Theory.” Trials16 (1): 242.


Leber, Werner, Heather McMullen, Jane Anderson, Nadine Marlin, Andreia C. Santos, Stephen Bremner, Kambiz Boomla, et al. 2015. “Promotion of Rapid Testing for HIV in Primary Care (RHIVA2): A Cluster-Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Lancet HIV 2 (6): e229–35.



Select talks or conference presentations:


(Accepted) 2020 - Royal Anthropological Institute Conference - Panel: Imagining the Future: The Horizon - Paper: Having Kids, Having Kin: (re) imagining reproduction in the Anthropocene (with Katharine Dow)


(Accepted) 2020 - Association for Social Anthropology Annual Conference: Panel: Reproduction, Kinship and Generation in the Face of Climate Change - Co convenor with Katharine Dow


2019 Intersectional Innovations in Applied Health Research Lecture Series – University of Lancaster Guest Speaker: Power, patients and the practice of implementation rapid HIV testing in general practice  


2018 International Conference of Family Planning (ICFP)– Rwanda / Conference of the Parties (COP 24) Climate Summit –Poland Paper and workshop: State of the Conversation: Climate change, population dynamics and sexual and reproductive health and rights  


2018     Marxist Feminist Workshop – University of Lund, Sweden -Paper and workshop -Transnational feminism beyond Western imperialism: Notes from the Canadian Scene – with Sarah Swerdlyk  


2017 Medical Research Council Trials Unit – MRC, London - Guest seminar - How pragmatic is the pragmatic trial: A case study of HIV testing general practice  


2017   European Conference on African Studies (ECAS) – Basel, Switzerland - Panel: Local Resistances to Agendas on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Africa   Paper: Unintended effects of a Ugandan social accountability programme: Tracing change in family planning programmes – with Nanono Nulu and Victoria Boydell


2016 European Sociological Association – Lisbon, Portugal - PhD and early careers workshop - ‘Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research: New insights for the study of health and illness’ Paper: Imagining method as culture: Exploring incommensurability in mixed methods research - A PhD student account  


2015 8th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health Washington DC.  Paper: Explaining variation in an HIV testing trial in general practice: a new model using diffusion of innovations theory


2013 INSPIRE Academic Programme Wellcome Trust funded Mind, Medicine and Society speaker series – Barts Medical School, London Guest Speaker - Trauma and knife violence with Karim Brohi, Nayiem Rahman and Atinuke Inakoju.