Blue biohazard sign in front of columns of binary code.

The International Weaponization of Health Data

By Matthew Chun

International collaboration through the sharing of health data is crucial for advancing human health. But it also comes with risks — risks that countries around the world seem increasingly unwilling to take.

On the one hand, the international sharing of health-related data sets has paved the way for important advances such as mapping the human genome, tracking global health outcomes, and fighting the rise of multidrug-resistant superbugs. On the other hand, it can pose serious risks for a nation’s citizens, including re-identification, exploitation of genetic vulnerabilities by foreign parties, and unauthorized data usage. As countries aim to strike a difficult balance between furthering research and protecting national interests, recent trends indicate a shift toward tighter controls that could chill international collaborations.

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

Towards Member-driven International Pandemic Lawmaking

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Ching-Fu Lin and Chuan-Feng Wu

The COVID-19 pandemic has blatantly exposed the flaws of the World Health Organization (WHO) and its International Health Regulations (IHR) in addressing cross-border communicable diseases. Commentators have examined the IHR’s decades of struggle in fulfilling its objectives to control cross-border pandemics such as COVID-19, pointing out problems over the level of obligation, precision of language, delegation of power, settlement of dispute, and lack of enforcement power, among others. What has been overlooked, however, is the crucial question of whether the institutional design of the IHR enables the WHO and its Member States to deliver good global pandemic governance.

We argue that the IHR is ill-designed: its rules and mechanisms are disproportionately tied to the Director General’s (DG) exercise of power, rendering insufficient member access to and participation in core decision-making and greater tendency of regulatory capture. For example, the IHR failed to facilitate the timely declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) due to the DG’s and the Emergency Committee’s misinterpretation and misapplication of rules allegedly driven by political considerations. On 23 January 2020, even when COVID-19 cases had already been found outside of China, thereby indicating the risk of cross-border transmission (IHR Article 12(4)(e)), the second meeting of the Emergency Committee decided to confine the definition of “international spread” to “having actual local spread of COVID-19 in a country beyond China,” instead of “having the potential for, or a risk of, cross-border transmission,” and refused to declare a PHEIC. The WHO is also criticized for abusing its bureaucratic influences to further the agendas of individual Member States like China, letting politics override science.

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Phone with social media icons - instagram, facebook, and twitter.

Regulating Out of the Social Media Health Crisis

By Bailey Kennedy

If something changes the pathways in our brains and damages our health — and if it does so to Americans on a vast scale — it should be regulated as a threat to public health.

It’s time for our regulators to acknowledge that social media fits this description.

Social media poses an active health threat to many of its users, in a way that is akin to other regulated substances: it has been tied to a variety of harmful health outcomes, including depression. It has also become increasingly clear that social media can be addictive.

Even if it is a behavioral rather than a substantive addiction, with only indirect links to physical health, the high number of Americans who exhibit some degree of social media addiction is concerning.

Inasmuch as social media presents us with a public health crisis, the American government should consider potential regulatory steps to address it.

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green, red, and yellow qr codes on phones.

The Promise and Pitfalls of China’s QR Codes as Health Certificates

This article is adapted from a longer paper published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology (JOLT)’s Digest section. To access the original paper, please visit JOLT.

By April Xiaoyi Xu

At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, China has successfully managed to contain the spread of the virus, due in large part to its technological strategy, which uses QR codes as a kind of health certificate.

These color-coded QR codes are automatically generated using cell phone data. Green indicates that an individual is healthy and can move freely, yellow signals that the user must quarantine for up to seven days, and red for fourteen days. The basis for these determinations, as well as the extent of the data collected in order to make them, remains opaque.

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Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

Legal Tools Used in China in the COVID-19 Emergency

By Wang Chenguang

The Essential Role of Law in Containing the New Coronavirus

The stark truth in the COVID-19 emergency is the lack of effective drugs, therapies, and a vaccine at the moment and in the near future. Therefore the most effective way of containing the new coronavirus is still the traditional response of cutting off the channels of its human-to-human transmission. Realizing this fact, China has used, from the beginning, measures of social distancing, wearing face masks in public, quarantine and staying home to meet the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. All of these measures are means to adapt normal human behaviors to an emergency situation. To do so, law — the most effective set of norms used to regulate people’s behavior — is logically utilized to stop the spread of the virus. This idea is clearly expressed by the Chinese government’s policy of legal, scientific and orderly containment of the disease.

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Courtroom concept. Blind justice, mallet of the judge. Gray stone background.

Lawsuits as Conduits for Misinformation During COVID-19

By Ana Santos Rutschman and Robert Gatter

On April 21, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against China for having “deceived the public” about COVID-19. The complaint, which names the Chinese Communist Party, the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other government-run entities as defendants, puts Missouri in the unenviable position of being the first state to sue a foreign nation demanding damages for economic and non-economic losses associated with the pandemic. But Missouri is not alone. A putative class action was brought nearly simultaneously in New York against the World Health Organization, also seeking damages for “injury, damage and loss” caused by COVID-19.

In addition to tracing the early history of the Missouri and New York suits, in this post we explain how these high-profile lawsuits are being used as conduits for misinformation in ways that are likely to accelerate the crystallization of misinformation and their recurring sources. Moreover, these lawsuits add to the ongoing instrumentalization of the individual and collective hardships created by a major public health crisis as a tool to further ideology – as has happened recently in Texas in connection with abortion rights throughout the duration of the pandemic.

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A family consisting of two adults and one child walk stairs with their backs to the camera.

Lessons from One Child Nation for Health Policy

By Katherine Drabiak

The acclaimed One Child Nation, streaming on Amazon Prime, provides a haunting look at the reasoning, implementation, and consequences behind China’s (now revised) One Child Policy. Director Nanfu Wang expertly weaves together interviews from population health officials, medical professionals, and family members to describe how government policy strictly enforced population control measures through propaganda, forced sterilization, abortion, steep fines, and infanticide.

At first blush, it seems convenient to contextualize these gross violations of human rights as a product of a vastly different system of law and government than the U.S., but this is an oversimplification. Like the U.S., China also has a Constitution that enshrines central principles, such as deriving authority by the power of the people, equality under the law, preservation of human rights, freedom of the human person, freedom of speech and press, and certain freedoms of family life.  Unlike the U.S., a co-existing provision grants broad power to the government to promote responsible family planning.  Among key differences, One Child Nation illustrates the danger of interpreting rights through a prism that elevates social goals, public order, and government defined community interests above individual rights.

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Medical devices in a doctor's office

What the Trade War with China Means to the Medical Industry

If you rely on a pacemaker, an implanted defibrillator, a prosthetic hip, wear contacts or need an MRI, then you should be concerned about the constant threat and imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports by the Trump Administration. Using Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, President Donald Trump imposed new tariffs on an array of Chinese imports based on the assertion that they were stealing United States intellectual properties. The first volley occurred in July 2018 when the administration applied tariffs of 25% to over $34 billion in Chinese imports, and then again in August 2018 when it added another $16 billion in products to the list.

In an ongoing tit-for-tat, on May 10, 2019, the United States raised tariffs from 10% to 25% on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, including many health care products, from surgical gloves to chemical reagents. While medical supplies are only a small, biopsy-sized sample of the goods that will face these tariffs, they are sure to have some impact on an already financially burdened health care delivery system here in the United States. This will result in higher prices for health care products, devices, and components that are all passed off to the consumer.

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World Trade Month: Trade’s impact on domestic drug prices

By Oliver Kim

Happy World Trade Month! While health policy is often seen as something particularly domestic, trade can have an impact on health policy here at home.

Just a day before President Trump’s speech outlining the administration’s approach to rising drug costs, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) declared May as a time to “celebrate the many American companies exporting products around the world.” However, PhRMA also warned that “Americans should not subsidize the medicine costs in other wealthy countries.”

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