In the current age and time, when the world has turned into a “global village”, this connectedness brings both challenges and opportunities, At the first place this seamless connectivity is a prominent reason for spreading of the Coronavirus far and wide at a lightning speed but at the same time, the cure of the problem also lies in the same connectivity if utilized properly. The challenge is not new, the world has faced pandemics before and coordination between states was crucial in dealing with them. The world already possess a framework to deal with this global crisis, I here look at the previous pandemics that have ravaged the world and how states cooperated during them, also the mechanisms through which various states have tried to forge a path for a world with greater Health Security by the means of Health diplomacy, Medical diplomacy or Disease diplomacy, consequently enhancing the connection between health and Foreign Policy
What has happened before?
The world has witnessed various deathly pandemics before, from Black Death to Spanish Flu from Asian flu to SARS and Ebola. To manage both health and trade together and protect them from the debilitating effects of these diseases, states have come up with many agreements during these pandemics, starting from the practice of Quarantine.
The modern practice of “Quarantine” originated in 1377, when the seaport of Ragusa, now known as “Croatia” issued ‘Terentina’ and ‘Quaranta’ (which later became quarantine) i.e. thirty and forty days isolation period respectively for ships and travellers from outside, these measures were taken not only for health reasons but also to protect trade networks and economic welfare from the Black Death. But various states adopted different measures for quarantine there was no coordination or uniformity in the practice. Then in 1834, France was the first country to propose standardisation of quarantine practices, and finally in 1851 the first International Sanitary Conference was held. In 1907 “International Office of Public Health was established, which formulated uniform quarantine rules for various types of travellers. As numerous efforts were made to bring in a collective effort to deal with diseases and pandemics,In 1948 the World Health Organisation was established as a successor to International Sanitary Conference and infectious diseases along with other health issues came under International Law preparing a way for more coordinated actions and efforts.
Collectively planned quarantine measures were also witnessed during the SARS pandemic of 2003 when the proactive role played by WHO helped in the exchange of information around the world. Albeit the role of the same WHO is under grave criticism during the current pandemic, the way forward requires a multilateral effort under a global agency, reforms are very much needed but weakening this institution and withdrawing funding at such crucial time as U.S.A did, will do no good. States need to cooperate in numerous ways, from sharing best practices to deal with the pandemic, to mitigating the economic effects on the world economy. There is also a need for a shared and collective plan for the development and decimation of the vaccine around the world and a central body coordinating the worldwide efforts is the need of the hour.
This pandemic appears to highlight the realist notion of international relations with competition rather than cooperation in the forefront. The states might appear to look inwards but this pandemic has highlighted the inevitable interdependence of the world; no country no matter how hard it tries can protect itself alone, the fate of the world is going to be collective, the world may sail or drown but it will do so as one entity. Hence multilateralism and cooperation is the need of the hour.
The link between Foreign Policy and Health
Numerous multilateral forums and international organisation have been focusing on Global health security for long. The International Health Regulations adopted by the World Health Assembly in 2005 also provide a global legal framework to deal with health issues. United Nations General Assembly has since 2008 passed the “Global health and foreign policy” Resolution in every session. The latest being “Global health and foreign policy: a healthier world through better nutrition: resolution” in the 73rd session of U.N general assembly. The Oslo Ministerial Declaration on Foreign Policy and global health have enhanced many folds the importance of global health in Foreign Policy. The initiative was launched in 2006 in New York by Brazil, France, Indonesia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa, and Thailand. The Declaration stated the importance of global health in Foreign Policy. The declaration can today provide valuable insights into fighting COVID 19. It looked at policy initiatives to deal with health issues and was an earnest effort to make health a central issue in the foreign policy of the aforementioned nations.
In 1978, Peter Bourne came up with the concept of “medical diplomacy” working as a special assistant under the Carter Administration. According to Bourne humanitarian issues like health can be an important means for bettering relations and establishing strong diplomatic relations. After that, the concept has come a long way with numerous works published and research done on how health can be an important contributing factor in Foreign policy. According to GHS Initiative in Health Diplomacy, UCSF (2008), “Health Diplomacy occupies the interface between international health assistance and international political relations. It may be defined as a political change agent that meets the dual goals of improving global health while helping repair failures in diplomacy, particularly in conflict areas and resource-poor countries.” Hence the health and medical diplomacy can act as both furthering diplomatic national interests of particular countries and also furthering the collective goal of ensuring global health security.
As we are witnessing the current pandemic and the world is coming in terms with this “New Normal”, it is clear that the old ways need to change; transformation is needed at the structural, functional and organisational level. From Vaccine creation to distribution, economic exchanges, International travel, and transportation all need new rules now, and this new era demands cooperation, not conflict. International Security needs a complete overhaul and the current pandemic provides an important opportunity to have a paradigm shift in the conceptualisation of security by prioritising health as a major security concern; it has for long remained on the back burner of security concerns. The focus of security now must broaden to include the health of the individuals into the priority segment of national security along with the traditional conception of territorial security. At the same time acknowledging the fact that the health security of any nation in today’s globalised world is deeply connected with global health security, and an important means to secure this global health security is Health or Medical diplomacy.