Category: Health (page 2 of 5)

Will Covid-19 reshape government-NGO relations? Observations from India

This is a guest post from Suparna Chaudhry, incoming Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Lewis & Clark College. Her research focuses on human rights, international law, and political violence, with a focus on state persecution of NGOs. She can be found on Twitter @SuparnaChaudhry.

On March 24, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a three-week national lockdown on India’s 1.3 billion people. Domestic and international air travel, passenger trains, interstate buses and metro services were all suspended. State borders were sealed and states had to ensure, “no movement of people across cities or on highways.” The lockdown has since been extended twice, most recently on May 1, when the government announced its continuation until at least May 17.

While the latest announcement relaxed movement restrictions in districts relatively unscathed by Covid-19, a large part of the population, including all major cities, remain in the severely-hit red zones under complete lockdown. What have been the effects of the lockdown? What role have non-state actors played, in particular non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in Covid-19 containment and relief efforts? What challenges do these groups face from the state and how might the pandemic influence state-NGO dynamics?

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When norms collide: The COVID-19 pandemic and difficult choices on the hierarchy of norms and values

This is a guest post from Sassan Gholiagha, Anna Holzscheiter, and Andrea Liese. They are currently working together on a project on norm collisions in global politics funded by the German Research Foundation. Sassan is a postdoctoral researcher at the WZB Berlin. He has worked on norms, the Responsibility to Protect, and drones. Anna holds the chair for political science with a  focus on international politics at the TU Dresden and heads the research group on Governance of Global Health at the WZB. Her areas of interest are children rights, discourse analysis, and global health. Andrea holds the chair for International Organizations and Policies at the University of Potsdam. Her areas of interest are international organizations, international norms, and international human rights policy.

Politics, as famously defined by David Easton, is the “authoritative allocation of values”, such as welfare, security, and liberty. Politicians thus have to weigh these values against each other in cases in which they collide. Four months into the current pandemic, we are able to observe a growing awareness for norm collisions between the right to life and well-being associated with COVID-19 on the one hand and a broad array of other norms. In this post, we will discuss the politics surrounding COVID-19 as being, fundamentally, about difficult decisions on hierarchies between norms in cases where they collide.

Norm Collisions and Norm Hierarchies

What happens to previous norm balances in a case of emergency or a case, where the right to life is prioritized over other values? During the past weeks, states have interfered with freedom of religion and prohibited churches, synagogues, and mosques to conduct their services in order to protect public and individual health. To slow down the spread of the virus, schools have been closed in 191 countries around the world, with  nearly 1.6 billion of pupils out of school. For a lucky portion of pupils in more developed countries this new norm prioritization means ‘just’ long-distance learning by digital classroom. For millions of others, it simply means no education at all, as they lack a quiet place to study or lack digital infrastructure and equipment. Their right to education is without doubt violated.

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Responses to COVID-19 in South Africa: The centrality of food security

This is a guest post from Kurt Ackermann, a civil society leader in South Africa who works through urban social agriculture to strengthen community resilience in cities. He is executive manager and co-founder of The SA Urban Food & Farming Trust and an associate at the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town.

COVID-19 in South Africa has followed a trajectory atypical of any other nation. For speculated but still uncertain reasons the country managed to flatten its curve dramatically, with one of the world’s strictest lockdowns likely to have played a major role. This included no freedom of movement for exercise, no sales of alcohol, cigarettes or hot prepared food, a ban on travel for funerals, a requirement for all businesses to register and be approved for a permit to operate as an essential service, police roadblocks checking for permits and the illicit transport of unauthorised goods, and more. The disease continues to spread, but slowly and without throwing the nation’s health care system into crisis.

However, the slowed course of the pandemic and severity of the lockdown have amplified pre-existing stresses arising primarily from the staggering level of inequality that has, in fact, worsened since the end of apartheid 26 years ago. Most prominent among these stresses has been a crisis of hunger.

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“Déjà vu All Over Again: The EU, Coronavirus, and the Eurozone Crisis”

This is a guest post from Sean D. Ehrlich, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University who researches international and comparative political economy, trade policy, and democratic institutions. His first book, Access Points, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011 and  his second book, The Politics of Fair Trade, was published by Oxford University Press in 2018. He can be found on Twitter @SeanDEhrlich.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the European Union, the EU itself has been relatively inactive, leaving it up to the member states to address the medical crisis and its economic and social consequences. Largely, this is by design, as public health issues were intentionally left to national discretion.

Where the EU has taken action, it has been limited and technocratic such as pooling money for joint ventilator purchases and funding vaccine research cross-nationally. The one exception has been the European Central Bank, which has taken major steps by injecting over €750 billion into the economy through quantitative easing to support the region’s economies.

Otherwise, what the EU has not done is offer any European-wide fiscal stimulus or aid for countries that implement their own policies. While the EU does not have ready mechanisms to do much of this, they do have tools like the European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM) to lend money to countries that have increasing debt which was developed to address the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis that started in 2008. However, though negotiations are ongoing and a preliminary deal has been struck, the members of the EU have yet to agree on a final plan to use the ESM.

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The Militarization of COVID-19 Enforcement: Observations from the Philippines

This is a guest post from Andrew Yeo, who is an Associate Professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC and a Fulbright Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His most recent books include Asia’s Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century and North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks (with Danielle Chubb).

As a US scholar on research leave in Manila, I’ve been following the COVID-19 response in both the Philippines and the United States closely. I was bemused last weekend reading headlines about anti-quarantine protestors in several US state capitals, and the outrage geared at (what I presume to be) mostly Trump supporters in risking the further spread of the coronavirus.

Having experienced a different reality here, I’ve pondered the pros and cons of stricter quarantine enforcement as we have seen in the Philippines. Would either country envisage the imposition of martial law, a growing concern among some in Manila as the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) boost their presence?

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We Already Know What To Do

This is a guest post from Annick T.R. Wibben is Anna Lindh Professor of Gender, Peace & Security at the Swedish Defence University. Her research straddles critical security and military studies, peace studies, international theory, and feminist international relations. Her books include Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach (Routledge, 2011), Researching War: Feminist Methods, Ethics & Politics (Routledge, 2016), and Teaching Peace and War: Pedagogy and Curricula with Amanda Donahoe (Routledge, 2019).

The effects of COVID-19 are invariably exacerbated by existing inequalities; those already in crisis on the margins of (global) society, whether as a result of wars, colonial legacies or current economic priorities, are disproportionally dying. We can see this clearly in the first sets of disaggregated data coming out of the US/ UK – already underprivileged regions, classes, races, especially when these intersect with age, are disproportionally affected.

The widely-adopted policy of social distancing is a policy of privilege. Social distancing is not possible for those who are incarcerated in crowded prisons or trapped in camps, whether at the edges of Europe and the U.S., in Bangladesh and Syria, or elsewhere in the world, displaced by war and environmental devastation. It is not achievable for those whose survival depends on being in close proximity to others or whose obligations to others mean they have to go “out there”. At the same time, strong community support and solidarity is key to survival for many, and social distancing itself can be the cause of new deaths.

COVID-19 will affect women and girls differently on a variety of levels, both because of the already existing devastating impact of domestic violence which is exacerbated during lockdowns, and because they are doing much of the crucial caring labor at home and in their communities.

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Paradiplomacy & Pandemics

This is a guest post from Jiun Bang, PhD (University of Southern California, political science and international relations), currently a visiting scholar at the Korean Studies Institute at USC.

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, cities have been making the news, from the harrowing daily struggles of New York City with COVID-19 to President Trump’s erroneous estimate of Seoul’s population of ‘38 million’ [more like just shy of 10 million].  I happened to listen to Dr. Robert T. Yanagisawa, MD and Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Co-Director of the Mount Sinai Global Health Program in Japan, talk about the bond between New York City and Tohoku (Japan) based on the ‘9/11 to 3/11 Survivor Exchange Program,’ which references the attacks of September 11, 2011 and the Fukushima disaster of March 11, 2011.  According to Dr. Yanagisawa, there are plans by Japanese medical students to send N95 medical masks to Mount Sinai hospital in New York.

All this got me thinking about the concept of paradiplomacy: diplomacy by sub-state political units, including cities. As a big fan of diplomacy and one who often laments the lack of appreciation for both the practice and discourse of diplomacy by mainstream IR, I thought I would introduce paradiplomacy—especially between cities—and its potential applications for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Comparative Responses to COVID19 : Interview with Duck contributor Sofia Fenner

Last month, Sofia Fenner wrote a terrific post for us on comparative responses to COVID19, focusing on regime type, state capacity, leadership, and civil society response.

Mark Leon Goldberg interviewed her for UN Dispatch to talk about the piece and further reflections. Embedded below.

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What’s wrong with the war metaphor

This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven (PhD) who teaches International Relations and Foreign Policy at Carleton University, Canada.  His work has been published in Security Dialogue, European Journal of International Relations, and Journal of Global Security Studies, among others.  He is the editor (with Mira Sucharov) of Methodology and Emotion in International Politics: Parsing the Passions (Routledge, 2019).   

As governments around the world grapple with the Covid-19 crisis several are reaching for the metaphor of war to convey the urgency and gravity surrounding the pandemic. 

There are obvious advantages to this strategy.  Historically, the language of war has functioned as a powerful mechanism for collective mobilization and emergency action.  It can suspend partisanship, free government agencies of burdensome rules, and activate extraordinary powers on behalf of the executive.  Even more, it can revive memories of shared sacrifice—as in World War 2—which can serve as inspiration and even comfort in uncertain times.

At the same time the war metaphor comes with a number of risks.  One problem is that it risks positioning militaries as the leading responders to the Covid-19 crisis.  As academics studying the securitization of AIDS/HIV have noted, this can lead to limited resources being diverted from public health systems and towards the military

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Deploying targeted digital health conversations to fight the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and misinformation

This is a guest post from Ben Bellows, PhD (UC Berkeley, epidemiology), currently a researcher at the Population Council in Washington DC and a co-founder and the Chief Business Officer at Nivi Inc., a digital health company empowering consumers in emerging markets. Nivi is supporting the COVID-19 response here.  

Background: the problem

Disease outbreaks are as much a social phenomenon as a biological one. Rumor, innuendo, and public sentiment drive disease transmission dynamics. Covid-19 is no different; the fact checking website, Snopes.com, has a dedicated “covid-19” tag to run the equivalent of public health containment and mitigation on misinformation.

As the World Health Organization reported 2nd February, this pandemic, similar to past epidemics like SARS in 2003 when the term was coined, risks spawning an “infodemic” that exacerbates disease control and treatment efforts (e.g. there is no high quality evidence that hydroxychloroquine leads to significant improvements in COVID-19 outcomes, drinking hot water will not kill the virus, and this video does not show mass COVID-19 graves in Italy).

Drawing lessons from the 2013-16 West Africa Ebola epidemic, we already see health authorities trying to balance centralized mechanisms to promote consistent and high quality messaging with decentralized programmatic communication that is flexible and adaptable to local needs, as Gillespie and colleagues recommended post-Ebola.

As a part of the global response, on March 20th, the WHO and Facebook launched a WhatsApp chat bot and resource page to improve information quality, allowing anyone with access to WhatsApp to learn more about coronavirus and receive updates. This proactive strengthening of health authority messaging pairs well with effective efforts to weaken transmission of misinformation on social media platforms (e.g. YouTube has a 24-hour incident-response team to remove misinformation and Facebook partnered with the International Fact Checking Network awarding grants to fact check Coronavirus misinformation).

National governments and corporate partners have also launched digital messaging services including in India, Kenya, and South Africa. These messaging services, and similar web platforms the US CDC Coronavirus Self-Checker, convey consistent and vetted health information intended to inform citizens and empower healthy decisions.

Next phase in pandemic response

Anticipating the next step in the COVID-19 response, digital health companies are launching consumer-facing COVID-19 messaging for specific populations. One company that I co-founded in 2016, Nivi, began to develop messaging after noticing an uptick of in-bound questions from its users.

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Public Health Research in Mainstream International Relations Outlets

Steve Saideman’s recent Duck piece on international relations scholars’ relative silence on issues of pandemics, and public health more generally, has ruffled feathers[1]and generated a lot of discussion: about marginalization of certain research outlets and methodologies, about the value of interdisciplinary work in a self-identifying-as-such-but-still-not-all-that-interdisciplinary discipline, and about what it means to say “IR as a field has little to say” vs. “individual IR scholars having said quite a bit.”

This all hits pretty close to home. As an IR scholar whose main area of specialization—climate change and conflict—has not received much purchase in mainstream political science and IR outlets, I can sympathize with feeling marginalized. And I’m sure I would bristle at the idea of someone saying “why don’t IR scholars study climate change”, though I’ve always read these pleadings as supportive of a broader platform for work in this area, not a failure to recognize the work that’s already being done. But I think the data are pretty clear: comparatively speaking, public health is not a widely published on topic in mainstream IR journals.

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Experts, Public Intellectuals, and the Coronavirus

This is a guest post from Peter Verovšek, a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Politics/International Relations at the University of Sheffield

The Coronavirus has turned us all into amateur epidemiologists. This desire for greater understanding makes sense in the face of a threat as novel and as dangerous as COVID-19. The shutdown of massive sections of the economy and state-mandated orders to engage in social – or, more accurately, physical – distancing has left the majority of us stuck at home, wondering when things will go back to normal and worrying that they never will.

As a result of this uncertainty, we are all breathlessly reading scientific reports on pandemics, such as the paper from Imperial College London, which serves as the scientific basis for government policy in the UK. Previously obscure experts on viral pandemics, such as Neil M. Ferguson and Nicholas A. Christakis, have built massive followings on Twitter almost overnight.

Clearly experts have an important role to play in combatting the novel Coronavirus by advising governments, informing citizens, and conducting the basic scientific research necessary to address the crisis in real time. In the words of Michel Foucault, these “specific intellectuals” are supposed “to pose problems, to make them active, to display them in such a complexity that they can silence the prophets and lawgivers” by making the severity of the crisis clear.

However, in addition epidemiologists and scholars of public health, many other researchers – including many political scientists and philosophers – have also sought to cope with the current situation by putting their thoughts down on paper (myself obviously included). In and of itself this is not a bad thing.

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Why Have Mainstream IR Journals Largely Ignored Pandemics*

* I have changed the title as I got plenty of pushback on twitter–that there is plenty of IR on Pandemics, not just in the major journals. And I will add an update at the bottom later to address the criticisms later.

People are wondering why there has not been much scholarship on the international relations of pandemics in the mainstream journals.


Not a scientific survey of the literature, but it gives you the basic idea.  I can’t really name any scholars that come to mind that are the pandemic experts, except strangely enough Dan Drezner thanks to his book Theory of International Politics and Zombies (the origin of that book was the blogging community reacting to a study by public health types who were wondering if countries would cooperate in the face of a pandemic and they used zombies as a placeholder for … something like this)  Which really is about IR theory and cooperation and not really about pandemics.  It is just the closest we got.  Which ain’t much. Why?

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Take a lesson from Hong Kong: don’t wait for your government, save yourselves from COVID-19

This is a guest post from Karen A. Grépin, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong

As cases of COVID-19 soar globally, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have garnered accolades from the international community for having kept their epidemics relatively under control through mid-March – despite the incredible threat they all faced earlier in the year of imported cases from China. With all of the praise flowing to Hong Kong, one might expect citizens to also have good things to say about their government’s handling of the outbreak – but you would be wrong.

In fact, according to data from a recent public opinion poll (20 March 2020) conducted by the independent Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) only a quarter of Hong Kongers are satisfied with the way that government has handled COVID-19.  While this represents an improvement in support since an earlier poll (14 February 2020) found that only 7% of survey respondents supported the government – an all-time low – it is clear that people here are not enthusiastic about the way government is handling the outbreak.

So, why are Hong Kongers so dissatisfied?  One thing that is clear, the seven months of violent protests that ravaged this city in the lead up to the outbreak undermined overall support of the government. But this is unlikely to explain all of the dissatisfaction: support for the government actually declined in February relative to January, even after the protests had largely quieted down.

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Trump’s Coronavirus Response Shows How Much Leaders Matter

This is a guest post by Richard W. Maass, an Associate Professor at the University of Evansville. His research focuses on international security, US foreign policy, terrorism, and diplomatic history. He has a forthcoming book on how democracy and xenophobia limited US territorial expansion (Cornell UP, May 2020).

The international experience of COVID-19 will have many implications for international relations. Scholars have already begun discussing its implications for IR theories, hegemonic stability theory, and measures of state capacity. When all is said and done, I think the central lesson will be how much individual leaders matter.

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no, Realism cannot explain the international Covid-19 response

As the world rushes to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, international relations scholars have a lot to say. We are not public health experts, or pathologists. But we can speak to the way states respond to common threats and the political process needed to formulate an effective response. One common reference is the realist idea of self-interest driving state behavior and undermining collective action. Yet, while realism as an inclination can explain what’s going on, Realism as a scholarly theory cannot.

Many scholars and general observers of international relations have reacted with frustration at state responses to Covid-19. The Trump Administration delayed testing and has provided insufficient information or help to states and communities. Britain’s Boris Johnson vacillated from doing nothing to locking down the country. China failed to be sufficiently transparent during the early stages of the pandemic.

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COVID-19 Breathes Life into Hegemonic Stability Theory

This crisis has us all having a lot of feelings.  I am feeling a bit nostalgic for Hegemonic Stability Theory. While Comparative Politics will have much to say about why countries varied in their responses (also see Max Brooks’s World War Z [the book, NOT the movie] to get a taste of the comparative politics of pandemics), it is the job of IR (and epidemiologists) to discuss why the disease spread as it did and why the international community largely failed. While there are many theories that may apply, I think that HST applies quite well.

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Public Health and Religious Freedom in Korea’s COVID-19 Response: A Government Torn between Two Values

This is a guest post from Yongjin Choi, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Public Administration at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany. His research focusses on evidence-based policy, Medicaid, and citizen participation. Before entering the doctoral program, he worked as a researcher at the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) for several years. He is currently working as a research assistant at the Center for Technology in Government (CTG). Follow him at @TheYongjinChoi

While the COVID-19 outbreak in Korea, which as of March 16th reached 8,236 confirmed cases, appears to have turned the corner on new infections, it has also served to highlight ongoing socio-political tensions in the country between the government and religious groups that have grown increasingly politically influential.

The coronavirus began to spread nationwide in February, following community spread from a large-scale service of a doomsday “cult,” the Sincheonji church of Jesus, in Daegu (now the most affected region of the country), drawing attention to the risk posed by large, in-person religious services. In spite of the churches’ known role in the continued spread of the virus, the central government has been reluctant to issue anything more than voluntary guidelines urging churches, in particular, Christian megachurches, to move their services online and stop meeting in person demonstrating the growing political clout of these religious groups in Korean society. Below I review the Christian churches’ role in the spread of COVID-19 in Korea, the government’s response and provide some context to understand the growing political influence of megachurches in Korean society.

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Emerging Lessons from the South Korean Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is a guest post from Heeun Kim, a PhD Candidate in the Department of Public Administration at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany. Her research focusses on access to healthcare, disparities in health, and universal health coverage. Her current research projects include sexually transmitted diseases prevention in New York State, disparities in access to care under the Affordable Care Act in the US.

As the US struggles to ramp up its COVID-19 response amid what appears to be widespread community transmission, countries that appear to have turned the corner on new infections can offer lessons.

South Korea has been battling COVID-19 since the number of confirmed cases began skyrocketing in late February reaching nearly 8,000 confirmed cases with 67 patients deceased as of March 13. While Korea had, up until recently, the second largest number of confirmed cases after China, the number of newly confirmed cases has been declining for the last few days in the epicenter of the city of Daegu and adjacent regions (however, the number of community-level cluster transmissions has been gradually increasing in other cities). Moreover, its recorded case fatality rate is closer to 0.87%, rather than the 2-3% range reported elsewhere, which is likely to be more accurate than in other countries, due to widespread testing, but also possibly reflecting a more effective response or other underlying factors.

Notably, South Korea appears to have brought the outbreak under control in spite of an initially tepid political response, by adopting strategies that maximized transparency and access to testing, while managing to avoid draconian measures such as strong forms of social distancing and quarantine. It might be too early for an optimistic forecast, but these are some lessons from the South Korean case.

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COVID-19 and the Start of a Global Recession

This is a guest post from Brendan Skip Mark, an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of Rhode Island (URI). His work focuses on International Organizations and human rights. He is a co-director of the CIRIGHTS human rights dataproject. 

The official definition of a “recession” is a fall in real GDP for two consecutive quarters. It usually takes a while for the data to show this, yet it is already clear that production is falling globally and will continue to fall. We are in a global recession. It is still too early to tell how bad this crisis will be, and its severity will depend on how governments and international actors behave.

While the worst effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) are still to come, we are already seeing massive economic disruption. The Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) and government efforts to contain it appear to be failing; German Chancellor Angela Merkel said 70% of the country may eventually be infected, and infections in China, the US, Canada, Italy, Iran and many other countries are proving a formidable challenge.

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