From AIDS to swine flu: the politicization of global health

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For more than a decade now, the focus of global health has been on exceptional events, whether HIV, SARS or pandemic influenza. An accepted orthodoxy has emerged that something new has occurred: that new infectious diseases/outbreak events pose new risks; that these problems are global not local; and that they require a more political response, up to and including global health governance. This orthodoxy however is not simply a passive reflection on what has changed; rather it constitutes a narrative, which constructs and shapes our understanding of what is happening. This paper proposes to deconstruct this narrative and identify the work it is doing. Crucially it asks the question: whose interests are being served by this narrative? In so doing the paper will suggest that, far from the narrative opening up questions of whether foreign/security policy and global health can co-operate or are in competition to each other, what the narrative actually does is privilege a set of interests which are shared by Western health and foreign and security. In particular it suggests that the new ‘outbreak narrative’ is a narrative of the powerful privileging the West, established medical disciplines and multinationals (drugs, but also through their exception food and tobacco), rather than the expected privileging of global health needs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Event2011 International Studies Association Annual Convention - Montreal, Canada
Duration: 16 Mar 201120 Mar 2011


Conference2011 International Studies Association Annual Convention
Abbreviated title2011 ISA Convention
Period16 Mar 201120 Mar 2011


  • global health
  • infectious disease


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