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Wolfson Institute of Population Health

Dr Heather McMullen, PhD



Centre: Centre for Public Health & Policy

Telephone: +44 (0) 207 882 7084


I am a social scientist in the Global Public Health Unit at the Centre for Public Health & Policy at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health. 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.   


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.  



Please click through to see a complete list of Heather's publications.

Featured 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.” Trials 16 (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.

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