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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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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Photograph of a button pinned to a shirt. The button reads "Fuera el aborto de codigo penal."

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: A Legal and Political Flashpoint in Today’s World

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center on Friday, October 4th, provides a critical opportunity to reflect upon the progress that has been made with respect to recognizing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as legally enforceable rights, and the role courts have played in Mexico and elsewhere.  The event could not be more timely, as the battle lines were evident at the UN General Assembly’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Summit and in negotiations over the “Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.” A group of countries led by the United States wanted to remove language of SRHR from the declaration and, in turn, the priorities for UHC. That effort was ultimately defeated but the debates showed the degree of contestation that these norms face in development paradigms, as well as international and national law.

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Photo of a globe with a bandage tied around it

Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience

This is the abstract of a paper by Alicia Ely Yamin. You can read the full paper in the Journal of Human Rights Practice here.

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abstract

Like other contributors to this special issue and beyond, I believe we are at a critical inflection point in human rights and need to re-energize our work broadly to address growing economic inequality as well as inequalities based on different axes of identity. In relation to the constellation of fields involved in ‘health and human rights’ specifically—which link distinct communities with dissonant values, methods and orthodoxies—I argue that we also need to challenge ideas that are taken for granted in the fields that we are trying to transform. After setting out a personal and subjective account of why human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) are unlikely to be meaningful tools for social change as they are now generally being deployed, I suggest we collectively—scholars, practitioners and advocates—need to grapple with how to think about: (1) biomedicine in relation to the social as well as biological nature of health and well-being; and (2) conventional public health in relation to the social construction of health within and across borders and health systems. In each case, I suggest that challenging accepted truths in different disciplines, and in turn in the political economy of global health, have dramatic implications for not just theory but informing different strategies for advancing health (and social) justice through rights in practice.

image of a genetic screen

How Might we Approach Discussions on the Implications of Using Genetic Data from a Human Rights or Social Justice Perspective?

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Jonathan Chernoguz

To complement the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference this year, Consuming Genetics, the Global Health and Rights Project at Petrie-Flom (GHRP) convened a small meeting of feminists, students, and other activists. On May 16, Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator , which co-sponsors GHRP, hosted the forum in conjunction with Marcy Darnovsky and Katie Hasson of Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).

Focusing on “Gene Editing, Ethics, Rights and Health Equity Issues,” and in particular the irrevocability of germline gene editing, the meeting began with Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of CGS asking, “How might we begin the discussion from [the perspective of] human rights, feminism, equity, and social justice, rather than from the science and biotechnology?”

This question echoed some of those posed during the Consuming Genetics conference, for example, by Jonathan Kahn in interrogating the equivocation of social diversity and empirical diversity in genomic research.  Read More