Historically localized pathogens are now crossing continents as more people and goods travel and ecosystems change; as a result, new populations of people and animals are being exposed to new infectious agents. Globalization and the effects of climate change, both of which have been accelerating since the mid-1900s, have increased the frequency, intensity, and transcontinental nature of epidemic-prone infectious diseases, such as H1N1, Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19. The increasingly borderless nature of these outbreaks means that there is an increase in the number of stakeholders who will benefit from an internationally-coordinated response to public health emergencies. This necessitates a reexamination and a reimagination of the legal frameworks--local, national, and international--that govern our response to global pandemics.
In 2003, an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread across more than two dozen countries throughout North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. This event highlighted how rapidly local public health concerns could become global. It also prompted the global community to act. The World Health Organization (WHO) developed an early response system, considered what a global response to future transnational epidemics could and should look like, and identified how to better contain the outbreak at the source. For the first time, an official status was designated for these epidemics-- public health emergencies of international concern (PHEICs)-- enabling the disbursement of emergency funding to countries affected by the PHEIC. Despite these systems and protocol, the next wave of PHEICs--H1N1, Zika, Ebola, and COVID-19-- revealed the international community's inability to coordinate a response in a timely manner.
The emergence and spread of COVID-19 in January 2020 highlight the urgency of a radical reimagination of local, national, and international structures used to respond to global public health emergencies. As of August 2020, 8 months after the first known death of the virus was reported in China, COVID-19 has spread to 177 countries, killing 610,200 and sickening 14.7 million individuals. The World Bank predicts that the global economy will shrink by 5.2% this year, the deepest recession since World War II, with the largest number of economies experiencing declines in per capita output since 1870.
This conference will address three crucial questions of global health governance. It will consider, first, whether and how the ailing global public health infrastructure might be reinvigorated; second, how the pandemic has threatened and exposed limitations of the social safety net in the United States and other economies around the world; and, finally, the phenomenon of vaccine refusal and what national and international legal institutions might do to curb it.
The Dean Rusk International Law Center and the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law at the University of Georgia School of Law will host a daylong, virtual conference to explore these developments on Monday, January 25, 2021. The conference will feature a keynote speech. Experts from academia and the practice will present on panels. Presentations will be published in the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law.