GAAMAC partner at the University of Oxford publishes report on health security after COVID-19
The Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict is a partner of GAAMAC. As part of its research project on Public Health and National Security after COVID-19, it has published a report entitled “Rethinking Health Security after COVID-19”.
The COVID-19 pandemic has posed major challenges to existing systems of global health governance. Even countries considered leaders in health preparedness, notably the US and the UK, struggled to contain COVID-19 domestically and were unable to mount an effective international response. As a result, the world suffered over 4.4 million deaths and an estimated 4.4 per cent decline in global GDP in 2020 alone – the deepest global recession since the end of World War II. The economic and health impacts of the pandemic have, meanwhile, fallen disproportionately on the world’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.
COVID-19 has therefore laid bare deep fissures in the current global health architecture and highlighted the need for urgent reform. One proposal for reducing the risk of future pandemics is to elevate public health as a national security priority. For decades, policymakers and experts have argued that the concept of national security should extend beyond state-centric, militaryfocused threats, to include infectious diseases and climate change. Accordingly, the US and UK governments, both erstwhile leaders in global health and biological preparedness, have committed to promoting health security as a framework for mitigating the threat of future pandemics. A health security approach, it has been argued, will increase attention, resources, and institutional capacity for dealing with health crises.
Yet the reflexive tendency to frame health risks in security terms has precluded serious examination of the assumptions and trade-offs underlying the health security paradigm. In this report, GAAMAC partner ELAC contends that, while the security implications of pandemics are clear, the concept of health security distracts attention from the underlying determinants of health that exacerbate the effects of severe disease outbreaks and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. Rather than adopting a securitised approach to infectious disease, COVID-19 should prompt world governments to focus on the wider determinants of health – such as universal health coverage and access to quality health care, among other health-related UN Sustainable Development Goals – as a way to ameliorate the impact of pandemics and other crises. The report challenges the following assumptions that undergird health security and proposes recommendations for an alternative approach.