Many states have long relied on various forms of information control, such as surveillance and censorship, as part of their approach to governance. With the development of advanced digital technologies, states have new tools to monitor citizens, restrict communication, and manipulate information. While observers have expressed concerns that information control violates human rights and suppresses citizen influence in governance, the Covid-19 virus highlights another area where government information suppression can have pernicious consequences: public health.
Last week, ISN Insights looked at:
- Japanese defense policy in a piece by Axel Berkofsky
- NATO’s new strategic concept in an article by Timo Noetzel and Adrian Oroz
- Egypt’s elections, held yesterday, in a piece by Issandr El Amrani
- ‘Bailout capitalism‘ in the aftermath of the financial crisis in an article by Dean Baker
- Power politics and summitry in Asia in Friday’s ISN Podcast with Ralph A Cossa
This week, we will be focusing on the issue of global health from the following perspectives: global health funding, horizontal vs. vertical health aid, the ‘rationing’ of care, the global health governance architecture and the AIDS pandemic.
Universal access and human rights is the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day. For 21 years, we’ve used 1 December to remind ourselves that the virus exists during the other 364 days of the year as well.
By the way, the US recently announced that it would lift a ban on people carrying the HIV virus from entering the country, a move that was long overdue.
From the ISN Digital Library:
- HIV in the UK from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in London
- HIV and Emergencies: One Size Does Not Fit All, from the Overseas Development Institute, also in London
- AIDS: Past, Present and Future our Special Report from December 2008
You can scan all of our offerings concerning AIDS/HIV here.
“Why don’t we have a Global Fund for maternal health, like the one for TB, malaria and AIDS?”, implored Dr Siriel Nanzia Massawe, an obstetrician in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
I was jolted by this desperate doctor’s question, buried in a recent New York Times article about the prevalence of maternal deaths during pregnancy and childbirth in sub-Saharan Africa.
You mean we don’t have a Global Fund fighting maternal – and for that matter, child – mortality? I wondered incredulously.
After all, two of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for a significant reduction in child and maternal mortality by 2015. And former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan established the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2001 to reach this third health-related MDG.
So why has only the MDG addressing communicable diseases been deemed worthy of a Global Fund? After all, the international community is far behind on all MDG health-related targets: maternal mortality has been stagnant for two decades; more than nine million children under age five still die every year; and AIDS infection rates are still too high for antiretroviral treatments to keep pace.
Clearly, a more synergized and streamlined approach to the three health-related MDGs is desperately needed. Each one impacts the other: For example, AIDS and malaria cause specific complications for pregnant women and their fetus’s development.
In the end, perhaps every one of these MDG initiatives could be more fully realized if greater attention were paid to how they interact. Has the time for an integrated Global Fund for Health arrived?
“Somebody I know went to Mexico and all I got was this lousy swine flu!” So goes a crass joke gracing some new t-shirt designs.
But Mexicans aren’t laughing. As these tourist t-shirts illustrate, the country isn’t just battling the physical effects of swine flu but the psychological ones as well.
While the H1N1 virus appears to have originated in either the US or Mexico, most attention has focused south of the US border where more illnesses and deaths have been reported. Some in the US have even taken to calling the virus “the Mexican flu,” using it as an excuse to stoke anti-immigrant fervor.
And the humiliation hasn’t stopped there. Discrimination has spread across the globe as quickly as the virus itself. In Paris, airport employees have refused to touch luggage coming off Mexican planes, while in China, authorities have forced healthy Mexican travelers into quarantine, delivering food to their hotels like they were hostages under siege.
With such negative attention focused on his country, Mexican President Felipe Calderon lashed out on Sunday against those “acting out of ignorance and disinformation” and implementing “discriminatory measures.”
While abhorrent, the stigma stinging Mexicans is no surprise. This kind of scapegoating is an unfortunate – but not unexpected – element of infectious disease epidemics that is often used to stoke pre-existing prejudices, according to experts.
“It’s fear of people we do not know or who look different,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan and author of When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America Since 1900 and the Fears They Have Unleashed. “You take the fear of the unknown that already exists and then combine that with a real or perceived threat that is contagious disease, and it’s explosive.”
While the swine flu threat is proving to be more perceived than real, how will fear-mongering manifest the inevitable next time around – especially when we’re facing down something more insidious than the flu?