Pandemic terror – securitizing the global health

The health-security nexus has become a dominating component within global health governance and global surveillance and response to infectious disease outbreaks.

Pandemic Terror - Securitizing The Global Health

Author: Mirza Abdul Aleem Baig

Traditionally, the concept of security was narrowly confined in military position with the essential focus on state protection from threats to national interests. Nevertheless, in the not too distant past, efforts to link up global health and health security have lifted eyebrows from experts in both the areas.

Arguments linking global health and health security have become patronize in the past few years. Accumulated concerns about the proliferation of biological weapons and the potential for bioterrorism have brought health security and public health more closer.

Though, debates on health-security nexus vary in levels of analytic thinking from the global to the national, infectious diseases could be incredibly conferred as a real terror to any state.

A pandemic may not only cause social disruption but also, threaten the stability of a state by eroding confidence in the state’s ability to provide a basic healthcare facilities and protection against diseases. Ideally, infectious diseases may not be the white-shoe, but it may provide the flash point turning a ‘weak state’ into a ‘failed state’.

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For millennia, humans suffered and died from disease with no understanding or knowledge of the aetiology. Now and then historians transcribed conflicts and wars where infectious disease outbreaks played a prominent role.

Likewise, several historical approaches to combating disease – such as the quarantine practices of the late 14th century onwards – proved so effective that we continue to utilize equivalent methods today. For a time, following the collapse of the Roman Empire the trend was for people to avoid settling in urban environment.

By the 12th century, this began to reverse that move towards increased urbanization and also brought with it greater risk of diseases. In 1377 the city-state of Venice that had been severely affected by the Black Death as it spread across Europe, introduced quarantine arrangements for the first time.

Observing that the disease appeared to have arrived on ships carrying trade goods, the Venetian authorities mandated that all newly arriving vessels be prevented from unloading cargo or passengers for a period of 40 days, purportedly on the basis that it was the same length of time Prophet Christ and Prophet Moses (P.B.U.T) had spent isolated in the desert.

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At the end of WWI one of the most devastating epidemiological events in recorded human history occurred in the form of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic that killed approximately 40 millions people worldwide.

Moreover, several major epidemics of typhoid, cholera, malaria, and yellow fever had a demonstrable impact on military forces throughout WWII. However, the real threat that infectious diseases posed to the global community was extremely well recognized by 1948 at the time of the establishment of World Health Organization (WHO).

Likewise, the connexion of the global health – health security acknowledged in the 1990s flows from four critical causes:

  1. the devastating scale of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the developing world;
  2. the recognition of the global problem of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases;
  3. renewed concerns about the proliferation of biological weapons by states;
  4. increased fears about the use of biological weapons by terrorists.

Global health issues, especially from infectious disease outbreaks, have risen ever higher on the global political agenda in the past two decades. Surprisingly, new infectious diseases have been emerging at an accelerated average of one a year by the same time period. E.g., SARS (2002-2003), MERS (2012), Avian Influenza A(H7N9) (2013), Ebola (2014-2015), Zika (2015-2016), and COVID-19 (nCoV-2019-2020).

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“It is likely that the world will continue to face outbreaks that most countries are ill positioned to combat. In addition to climate change and urbanization, international mass displacement and migration – now happening in nearly every corner of the world – create ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of pathogen”. The Global Health Security Index, 2019.

Knowing the risks associated with infectious disease outbreaks is not enough. Political determination is needed to protect people from the consequences of pandemics and to build a safer and more secure world.

Today is high time for presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, and health policy-makers to recognize that every nation’s security depends on global health security and that requires sincere, consistent, and long-run planning to make the world better equipped to respond pandemic terror.

What is unfortunately guaranteed if history is any guide, is that adverse infectious disease outbreaks will continue to visit globally and securitizing global health is one of the best tools to address them.

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