Washington, DC, USA, May 5, 2022: people protest the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion

Reproductive Governance in a Post-Roe US: The Weaponization of Health Systems

By Alicia Ely Yamin

I was living and working in Peru in 2001, when Karen Noelia Llantoy discovered she was pregnant with an anencephalic fetus. Llantoy, a minor at the time, became profoundly depressed. Her own physician, a social worker, and a psychiatrist all concurred that she should have a termination, as anencephaly is a fatal brain defect that also poses an unnecessary risk to the mother’s physical health, and the pregnancy was having a severe impact on Llantoy’s mental health.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina – August 31, 2017: Horizontal view of some waste collector machines over Matanza River (also known as Riachuelo at its mouth in River Plate), La Boca neighborhood.

Searching for Environmental Justice in Argentina: Revisiting the Reality of the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin Case after Fifteen Years

By Alicia Ely Yamin and María Natalia Echegoyemberry

The first thing that strikes you when you arrive in Argentina’s Villa Inflamable (literally “Inflammable Slum”) is the noxious sulfur smell of the air that mixes with other acrid chemicals, which makes it difficult to breathe deeply. When a breeze picks up, the sands that have been used to extract contaminated water from the nearby Riachuelo, one of the ten most highly contaminated rivers in the world, rain down on everyone, filling eyes and lungs with toxic particulate matter.

As petrochemical tanker trucks parade through nearby paved streets, the unpaved lanes of Villa Inflamable alternate between toxic dust blowing through the air on dry days to flooding raw sewage on rainy ones. Everyone knows someone who died of cancer, or had pregnancy complications and children with birth defects. More than 600 children have been born and are growing up exposed to highly carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene and toluene.

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GHRP affiliated researchers.

Introducing the Global Health and Rights Project’s New Affiliated Researchers

(Clockwise from top left: Alma Beltrán y Puga, Luciano Bottini Filho, Ana Lorena Ruano, María Natalia Echegoyemberry)

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Chloe Reichel

Leer en español.

In the years before the pandemic, and especially since the pandemic began, there have been increasing calls to decolonize global health. Setting aside what Ṣẹ̀yẹ Abímbọ́lá rightly characterizes as the slipperiness of both the terms “decolonizing” and “global health,” these calls speak to the need to reimagine governance structures, knowledge discourses, and legal frameworks — from intellectual property to international financial regulation.

Global health law itself, anchored in the International Health Regulations (2005), purports to present a universal perspective, but arguably rigidifies colonialist assumptions about the sources of disease, national security imperatives, priorities in monitoring “emergencies,” and governance at a distance. The diverse tapestry of international human rights scholarship related to health is often not reflected in analyses of the field from the economic North. In turn, that narrow vision of human rights has also increasingly faced critiques from TWAIL, Law & Political Economy, and other scholars, for blinkered analyses that fail to challenge the structural violence in our global institutional order — which the pandemic both laid bare and exacerbated.

In an attempt to enlarge discussion of these important topics and amplify diverse voices, the Petrie-Flom Center is welcoming four new affiliated researchers to the Global Health and Rights Project (GHRP).

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WHO flag.

Can a Pandemic Lawmaking Exercise Promote Global Health Justice? — Final Symposium Editorial

By Alicia Ely Yamin, on behalf of the editors*

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Lire en français.

Amid the unfolding “moral catastrophe” of COVID-19, and across the entries in this symposium, we see a clamor for any pandemic law-making exercise to promote more justice in global health.

However, this universally-embraced imperative masks a wide array of divergent views about the nature and sources of inequalities in global health, and in turn what should be done if we were to think beyond a narrow pragmatism of the moment.

In this final editorial, we attempt to surface some of the critical contestations that underlie any future pandemic treaty or revisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Scientific Innovation in International Pandemic Lawmaking — Second Symposium Editorial

By Pedro A. Villarreal, on behalf of the editors*

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Perhaps there is some Utopia where scientific research could immediately provide us all the accurate data on a novel disease´s severity and fatality rate. No doubt some (although not everyone) believe that such an ideal world would include mathematical models that could accurately predict both the disease´s pattern, as well as the effectiveness of the array of medical and non-medical tools to confront it. In this imaginary reality, data could tell us exactly to what extent restrictive public health measures are necessary in a given society to limit the spread of a pathogen, and it would be shared without constraints across the globe. Moreover, in this mythical world, there would be no distance between research and its application, as policymakers would simply need to draw from existing information to “make the right call.” Failsafe mechanisms would be in place to avoid the temptation of either altering scientific data, or using it for partisan motives. And, needless to say, in an ideal world, both research and the products of scientific innovation, including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, would be available to everyone, globally, on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

No such world is possible because science does not work that way. However, the broken world in which we find ourselves underscores the central imperative of reflecting on how lawmaking can be deployed to advance scientific innovation and equity.

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Geneva, Switzerland - December 03, 2019: World Health Organization (WHO / OMS).

International Pandemic Lawmaking: Conceptual and Practical Issues — Launch Editorial

By Joelle Grogan, on behalf of the editors*

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This symposium, “International Pandemic Lawmaking: Conceptual and Practical Issues,” was convened with two primary aims: to shed light on the inequities and imbalances exposed by global pandemic response, and to advocate recommendations on which principles should guide the framing and drafting of a potential international instrument on pandemic preparedness and response.

However, while good principle can guide good action, to be effective it must be more than good principle; and more substance is needed than good design. Thus, these symposium posts published on Monday through Thursday on Bill of Health and the Verfassungsblog, along with our accompanying editorials, look not only to the design of such an instrument, but also its implementation and enforcement.

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Bolivar Square with Cathedral and Colombian Palace of Justice - Bogota, Colombia.

The Stakes of the Pending Colombian Constitutional Court Abortion Decision

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Amid the massive social protests wracking Colombia, the Colombian Constitutional Court is currently considering whether to decriminalize abortion beyond the narrow exceptions already recognized in law.

The petition was brought before the court by the Causa Justa (“Just Cause”) movement, a group of activists and organizations who argue that the country’s broad criminalization of abortion through Article 122 of the Penal Code poses an unconstitutional violation of women’s rights.

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Alicia Ely Yamin.

6 Questions for Alicia Ely Yamin on Partners In Health, Social Justice, and Human Rights

By Jonathan Chernoguz

Among many other accomplishments, Alicia Ely Yamin (Petrie-Flom Center Senior Fellow), will now serve as the Senior Advisor on Human Rights at Partners In Health (PIH).

Partners In Health is a global health and social justice organization committed to improving the health of the poor and marginalized as a matter of justice. PIH works with ministries of health to build local and national clinical capacity and works closely with impoverished communities to delivery high quality healthcare, address the root causes of disease, train providers, advance research, and advocate for global health policy change.

Yamin is a world-recognized pioneer and thought-leader in the field of health and human rights. She has a long track record of working on the ground as well as at policy levels, including in collaboration with PIH sister organizations from Peru to Malawi. Yamin will work across a multi-disciplinary team within PIH and the broader Global Health Delivery Partnership, to advance an advocacy and policy agenda for transformative structural change in global health architecture and its intersections. To learn more about her new role, we asked Yamin a few questions about the position, how it relates to Petrie-Flom, and the goals she aims to accomplish.

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Covid 19 map confirmed cases reported worldwide globally.

Emerging Themes from the “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium

By Alicia Ely Yamin

The shape of the COVID-19 pandemic and legal responses to it are changing rapidly across different contexts.  Nonetheless, many of the issues raised in this global symposium will undoubtedly be the subject of scholarly and policy debates for the foreseeable future. Here I synthesize three emerging themes regarding structural challenges and democratic design.

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LOMBARDIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Empty hospital field tent for the first AID, a mobile medical unit of red cross for patient with Corona Virus. Camp room for people infected with an epidemic.

Framing the Digital Symposium – Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin, Senior Fellow

This digital symposium presents a pointillistic portrait of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in response to COVID-19 in dozens of countries around the world. The impulse for this symposium emerges out of the conviction that it is imperative that we emerge from the throes of this pandemic not only with the fewest possible lives and livelihoods lost, but also with democratic institutions and the rule of law intact.

That portrait will invariably evolve during the duration of the symposium, and long beyond. Nonetheless, now is the time to begin collectively reflecting on lessons regarding the relationship between population health and decision-making in emerging, consolidated, and illiberal democracies alike — and their implications for the post-pandemic future we want.

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